February 2012

Character + Work Ethic + Pride + SUCCESS - A Conversation with Bluffton High's Head Football Coach, Ken Cribb

Author: Frank Dunne, Jr. | Photographer: John Brackett

I have this indelible image of Bluffton High School’s football team on my brain. It’s an image of unit cohesion, precision, focus, and intensity that you can feel in the stands…and the game hadn’t even started. I was watching the team’s pregame warm ups.

Ken Cribb beamed when I told him that and offered this metaphor in response: “You looked into a pot of something that looks good and smells good, so you know it’s going to be good, but you kind of saw straight through to the ingredients.”

The ingredients that Cribb wants you to see are character, work ethic and pride, even more than he wants you to see wins or championships, because Bluffton football is merely a blip on the radar screens of these kids’ lives. These are lessons to prepare them for adulthood, and that’s a high school coach’s real job. Coach Cribb took a few minutes to talk with us about coaching Bluffton football, beyond the X’s and O’s.

C2: Coach, the editor didn’t assign this project; I asked to do it after I saw C.J.’s (quarterback C.J. Frazier) quote in the local paper. He made it a point to mention how he has grown as a person off the field and that his grades have improved since you came aboard. When you hear something like that, does it take away some of the sting from falling just short of the on-field goal?
Cribb: Absolutely. Don’t misunderstand me when I say that I did not come away disappointed (from Bluffton’s State Championship defeat). I don’t mean I didn’t want to win. Of course I want to win, but the lesson we learned from that was so huge. Our kids, they handled it unbelievably great. The first thing they were saying was, “We’ll be back. We’re gonna be back.”

The thing here is character. I want our teachers to like our kids. It makes my day when a teacher sends me an e-mail or tells me in person, “I love having your football players in my class. They’re leaders.” That’s awesome, and that’s what I care about. We talk character here. I stir up some emotions in people when I say academic performance isn’t the most important thing. So I’ll say, “Character is the most important thing. You’re not going to show me a kid with great character who doesn’t have good academics.” If a kid’s not a good student, he’s not going to be a good player. I’ve played against a lot of teams that have way more athletic ability than the teams that I’ve coached, but we have success against them because they’re good students and they know how to put themselves in the right position to make fewer mistakes. We take a lot of pride in having character.

C2: You took over a football program that had won 17 games in six years, and you have said that at the time, “A lot of the kids didn’t want to come out because they were embarrassed to be affiliated with the football team.” Bluffton is 26-3 since, and you played for the state title last season. How did you get a group of teenaged boys on the same page, so committed to excellence, in such a short time?
Cribb: It’s a belief factor. I just got back from coaching the Shrine Bowl a couple of weeks ago. The talent level was much better because they were the best 44 players in the state, but that togetherness was not there. The belief was not there. The doubt in their eyes was there because they do things a little differently than everybody else. But here, they do believe.

We showed a slideshow at the team banquet, and you could see in our players’ expressions at practice that everything they did, the effort was off the chart. Our work ethic is like nobody else’s. We teach a good work ethic.

C2: You guys blasted through the regular season for a combined score of 605-54 and won the first two playoff games convincingly. Then at Myrtle Beach, you ground out a comparatively low scoring win and, a week later, went up to A.C. Flora and won a high scoring shootout. After coasting through 12 games, a lot of young kids might become complacent and lose focus, but your guys didn’t flinch when the game changed. Were you ever concerned during the season that the competition wouldn’t prepare your team for what lay ahead?
Cribb: No. That goes back to one of our main ingredients: how we work on the practice field. We just don’t accept mediocrity, and our kids are the ones who say that.

C2: I wasn’t at the Championship game against South Pointe, but there were plenty of Tweets and Facebook posts from Clemson keeping us apprised. It was pretty clear that Bluffton was facing the teeth of the tiger in that one; a game like that could have easily gotten out of hand, but your guys didn’t let it. They played to win until the clock was all zeros. I know you’d rather have the win, but that must have made you proud.
Cribb: Of course. Every coach always wants their kids to give the effort, but in our program—and it’s not just our kids either, it’s the coaches, it’s our community, it’s our school—the effort plus the willingness to be part of something special is so strong right now with this Bobcat Nation. It’s inspiring, and that’s why our kids will never quit.

In my mind, we didn’t lose that game. We just ran out of time. Two or three little things go in a different direction…we’re talking about a whole different outcome. There’s a fine line between those two teams.

C2: What’s the outlook for 2012 and the move up to 4A?
Cribb: “We’ve got a lot coming back—six starters returning on each side of the ball—and we’ve got kids all ready and waiting to slide into their slots. Plus we’ve got all the coaches back, so we have continuity and consistency. We’re ready for anything.

C2: And Bobcat Nation’s got your back.
Cribb: We appreciate them more than they know. I hope they understand the impact they’ve had on these kids. Our society is so quick to criticize our youth when they mess up. But we’ve got a bunch of good kids doing great things, and Bobcat Nation being at the games, being physically seen and heard…our kids will tell you, we play great at home. The impact that this community makes on these kids, I don’t think they realize how strong that is.

C2: What about the impact that it’s made on you?
Cribb: This is where I’m going to be. No doubt about it, I’ve found the right fit.

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