By MIKE HUTCHENS
Messenger Sports Editor
The news that shocked the entire rural West Tennessee prep football coaching community Monday had the same affect on its subject.
“I’m stunned,” veteran Humboldt head coach Dan Bland told The Messenger immediately after getting the news he’d be fired from those duties. “I think most everybody is.”
The 68-year old Bland had been in charge of the Viking program the past five seasons, leading H’boldt to back-to-back District 14A championships in 2010 and ’11 and on a 17-game league winning streak that spanned four seasons before being ended late this year by eventual titleist Trenton.
Both widely-respected and well-liked, Bland has coached for 45 years in some capacity — building an impressive resume as both a head coach and an assistant at places like Milan, Jackson Central-Merry, Tullahoma and Oak Ridge in Tennessee. He also coached in the Mississippi prep ranks.
Bland posted a 34-22 record during his H’boldt tenure and has an overall record of 174-105 in 26 seasons as a head coach.
No specific reason was given for his dismissal by Humboldt administration, other than principal Arthur Moss saying, “We’re just looking to go in a different direction.”
That “different direction” was soon revealed as Junior Reid, the longtime head coach at Humboldt Jr. High and star player for the Vikings, was confirmed by Moss as the new Viking high school skipper. Reid has no head coaching experience on the prep level.
“It was just time for a change,” Moss added. “When Dan came on board, it was supposedly just for two years. He’s been here five.
“We feel Junior Reid is the best man for the job. He knows the kids and he did a good job with them when he had them in junior high.”
Bland was adamant that he knew of no other reason for his dismissal except for what Moss said and told him.
“He just said they were going in another direction, that’s it,” the now-former Viking mentor claimed. “I don’t know what the issue really was. I don’t know if it was some kind of demographics or they thought things would be better with a black coach or what.
“It’s just sad. I’ve done nothing I feel I need to apologize for. I really think they wanted me to resign. I wanted to go another year. And I didn’t want to make it easy for them.”
Bland, a Covington native who went on to star at Mississippi State and later pursued a professional football career with the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers, did say he’d heard scattered rumors that “something might be up” shortly before the Thanksgiving holiday break.
“I guess the word got around. I must’ve made (Arthur) Moss and (Director of Schools Steve) Bayko mad with the way I was handling things or something,” Bland continued. “Maybe they thought I was being too lenient, but I’ve handled the discipline the same way the basketball program has.”
Moss insisted there was no particular incident that led to the decision, saying, “It’s extremely difficult anytime you have to make a decision like this. There are communities involved and politics get involved. Everyone has a card to play. It’s just hard to relieve anyone in this position because this is their livelihood. It’s my hope that this all calms down in a couple of days. That depends on what Mr. Bland wants.”
Bland was quick to say that Monday’s turn of events did not signal the end of his coaching days.
“I plan on going on some more… probably as an assistant somewhere,” he said. “I’m very comfortable in that role and feel like you can do so much more in that capacity than you can as a head coach. But I wouldn’t totally rule out being a head coach again some day either.
“It’s like an old coach, Bum Phillips, once said: ‘There are two kinds of coaches — those who have been fired and those who are going to be fired. But I’m going to be just fine.”
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in The Messenger 11.27.12