Life moves on, but at Lipscomb Academy it does so accompanied by absence and longing along a path well traveled by someone who basically was the face of a football program.
For the first time since 1982 the football program begins as season without Glenn McCadams, the coach who was its bedrock.
The Nashville coaching giant passed away in March at 66 years old from complications of mantle cell lymphoma. His teams were 288-100, made 22 playoff berths and won three state titles in his 31 seasons. His 319-112 overall record placed him in the top 10 of Tennessee coaches in wins.
One of his former assistants, defensive coordinator Scott Tillman, 41, who was appointed interim coach April 7, is now the one in command.
“We greatly miss coach Mac,” Tillman said from his office Monday. “Our kids have been so resilient. Our team is as strong and dedicated as ever and we are going to honor him and honor God by giving it our best all season. That’s how he would have wanted us to play.”
Lipscomb, like most other teams around the state, had its first organized practice Monday. Indoor rains forced the Mustangs to start the morning workout indoors before they moved outside.
Monday was the first day the TSSAA allowed for helmets and shoulder pads. Next week practice in full pads is allowed.
Most regular-season openers are Aug. 22 and 23.
Tillman, a native of Guntersville, Ala., attended Lipscomb University. It was then that McCadams gave him his first coaching job.
“In my final year at Lipscomb, I was in a [phys ed] class, and he asked me if I’d like to join the staff. He gave me my start in coaching,” Tillman said. “I was 21 then, and I have been with him ever since, 20 years.”
Now Tillman is a head coach, a position that comes with more responsibility. Making the transition easier for him is the staff’s continuity.
“The good thing is that our coaching staff stayed basically intact,” Tillman said. “The only change is that we hired John Green who was at McGavock as our secondary coach, but he had already coached here before. In a way, we are all brothers, in it together.
“The entire Lipscomb community has given me and our staff their unconditional support, and said they want to help in any way they can.”
Everyone knows McCadams’ giant shadow looms.
“It’s been sad, and we have some big footsteps to follow,” offensive coordinator Andrew Stewart said. “But we know he is here in spirit. Our players have been very resilient and they have all maintained focus.
“We are all disciples of coach Mac, most of us have been with him for many years. It has been wonderful to see how dedicated our kids are and their determination to play well in his memory.”
Tillman, like McCadams, was lineman who grasped the importance of the offensive line – Tillman at Guntersville High and McCadams at Huntingdon High.
“There was a closeness there, offensive linemen as we were,” Tillman said. “I think that was one of the things that drew us closer.”
The return of standout athlete Luke Simpson has added to the optimism for the season. Simpson announced he would commit his senior year just to basketball and forgo his final year of football. Then he had a change of heart.
“We are really excited and happy to get Luke back,” Tillman said. “We plan to play him at safety and wingback. I can envision a scenario where our quarterback Sy Taylor will be looking to him for some pass completions.”
Said Taylor, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound junior: “It’s great to get Luke back, he’s a special athlete and he’s going to play a big part in our offense.”
Even though there has been no specific ‘Win for coach Mac’ war cry, all the players know that is the underlying challenge that will define the upcoming season.
“We’re very excited, and we are motivated to play for [McCadams],” Taylor said. “We have worked really hard in the offseason. We have a great schedule, very tough but exciting challenges ahead.”
Lipscomb Academy will hold a special dedication night for the memory of McCadams in its season opener against Page High (7 p.m., Aug. 23).
“We’re expecting a huge crowd. They will be hanging from the light poles that night,” Tillman said. “We will have some halftime and postgame ceremonies. We want to do it right for Coach Mac.
Added Taylor: “That’s going to be a very emotional, yet a very exciting night. We’ll have a great crowd, and we will go in and play hard, just like Coach Mac prepared us for.”