By Ben Robinson
COVINGTON — After filtering through over thirty applicants and conducting six weeks of interviews, the Covington Buccaneers have a new head football coach, which was finalized on Thursday with a unanimous vote by the board of education.
And the selection to lead the Buccaneer football program into its 70th season is Tyler Cates, who previously coached at Twin Valley South High School.
“This is a dream job,” said Cates. “I’m very well aware of the tradition here at Covington and I truly embrace this tradition. I know about the 29 league championships, the 16 playoff appearances in the last 17 years, the two state championships and the state runner-up team, so yes, the tradition here is amazing. I embrace it and I want the kids to embrace it, which I’m sure they already have.”
The decision to leave Twin Valley South for another Cross County Conference school was very tough for Cates due to the relationships he developed during a very successful tenure.
“I loved my time at South and I love those kids,” he said with a crack in his voice. “Looking those kids in the eye and telling them I was coming here was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. But it came down to doing what’s best for my family. Covington has given me an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up.”
That opportunity is to carry on the recent success left behind by one of the most successful coaches in Buccaneer history, coach Dave Miller — a coach who, in nine years, compiled an 86-20 record, won six league titles and qualified his teams for the state playoffs in each of his nine seasons.
“No pressure or anything,” Cates said jokingly. “What he (Coach Miller) has done here is unbelievable. I respect him for what he’s been able to accomplish, but also because he helped me get this job (at Covington). He put a good word in for me, and it means a lot to have a coach like Dave Miller show me that kind of respect.”
Coach Cates relishes the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Miller. He also embraces the challenges that lie ahead.
“I want to take the program to the next level. At least that’s the goal,” he said, emphasizing it with a sense of competitive purpose. “Now I don’t want to come here and promise state championships, but the reality is that is the ultimate goal. We want to get past the MAC teams and not just compete with them. They are the standard right now and we want to beat them.”
And Cates has seen Covington come close, but fall short against MAC teams in the state playoffs.
“I went to the game against Marion Local a couple of years ago and those were the two best teams in the state, no doubt,” he said. “It’s unfortunate the game was played in the second week of the playoffs instead of in the finals, but that’s the luck of the draw. In my book, Covington was good enough to be state champions that year.”
In order to take the next step as a program, Cates has an approach he hopes the kids will buy into from the very beginning.
“What I’m bringing here is a positive, high-energy approach to the program,” Cates said. “I believe you have to deserve victory in order to achieve victory in everything you do. By that I mean, you have to outwork everyone else. I’ll expect the kids to work very hard, but we’ll do our best to make it fun too. We are in a generation now where kids want to have fun and it’s my job to make it as fun as possible for them.”
Team chemistry is also very important, which Cates expects to build on from years past.
“Team chemistry will be so vital to our success, so I want to build on that. Team chemistry is all about love. You have to love each other and want to play for the man next to you. When you love the guy next to you, the game becomes bigger than you and love is what we have to build on here,” he said.
For the Buccaneers to be successful under Cates, it goes beyond what transpires within the confines of the team. Community support is the final component he feels will get the program to the next level.
“The support here is unbelievable and hopefully that support continues,” he said. “I never realized how much support there is in Covington until I started talking to people. There are so many knowledgeable people who care so much about the kids and the program that it really makes me feel in awe. The support and the expectations are why Covington is so successful and I’m so excited to be a part of it. Now I’m well aware you can’t make everyone happy and that’s not my objective, but what I’m hoping is the community will embrace what we are trying to accomplish.”
In order to achieve success for the long haul, Cates is adamant about getting all levels of Buccaneer football on the same page, from pee wee to junior high and high school.
“I am going to get involved with the pee wee and junior high programs,” Cates said. “Hopefully they are receptive to it, but I’m going to harp on those guys (the coaches) about getting everyone playing time at the younger levels — and I’m not saying equal playing time, but adequate playing time. I want them to focus on teaching the fundamentals. That has to be the focus because it’s difficult to correct bad habits when the kids get into high school. It’s all about teaching the kids proper fundamentals and creating a positive experience for them at a young age so when they come to us at the high school level they have a solid foundation and are still passionate about playing the game of football.”
Another challenge for Cates is helping multi-sport athletes balance their schedules — primarily kids who participate in three sports throughout a school year.
“I was a multi-sport athlete in high school, so I don’t want to take that away from the kids — especially at a school the size of Covington,” he said. “Again, I hope the other coaches are receptive to it, but I want to work with them, whether it’s basketball, wrestling, track or baseball — to put together a schedule where we can get the kids in the weight room, in the gym or whatever it is to get some extra work for the sports they want to play. I know its hard when you are in season, but I’d like to work with the other coaches to help the kids be successful in all of the sports they are participating in.”
As far as the expectations for the upcoming season, Cates is confident his team will be ready to roll by Week One.
“The thing about Covington, the expectations are always high here,” Cates said. “I haven’t met all of the kids yet, but I will soon. I do know that no class wants to be the one that doesn’t win a CCC title or fails to make the playoffs, because those things are expected here. We have a good senior class with a lot of experience who we will rely on for leadership. I’m so excited and look forward to working with those kids.”
Week One of the 2016 season is just over five months away, which isn’t a whole lot of time to establish his brand of football. But Cates is ready for the challenge.
“I can’t wait to get started,” Cates concluded. “I’ve heard so many great things about the kids, and I can’t wait to start working with them.”
With that … let the Cates era begin at Covington.