Touchdowns or baskets, just call him 'Coach'

Douglas Fritz • Updated Nov 29, 2017 at 5:59 PM

Mike Lunsford = football. Right?

What if I told you there was another sport equally dear to his heart? Or maybe, just maybe, even more so?

“I’m probably as big of a basketball fan as I ever was football, to be honest,” said Lunsford. “I probably watch more basketball. Basketball has always been what I watch when I relax.”

Lunsford — who still remains as the only coach in Tri-Cities area history to lead a high school football team to a state championship game under a true statewide playoff system — is still coaching even though Cloudland got eliminated from the playoffs two weeks ago. He is the head coach of the Lady Highlanders’ basketball team.

It’s not his first season as a head girls basketball coach. In 2001, Lunsford coached the Lady Highlanders. Later that same year he coached the football team into the state finals before losing to private-school Ezell-Harding.

Lunsford didn’t continue as the Lady Highlanders’ head coach, a decision his wife said wasn’t a good one.

“She told me when I gave that up it was probably the biggest mistake of my coaching career,” said Lunsford. “Honestly I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed anything more than I did that season. She probably knew me better than I knew me.”

Sixteen years ago

The basketball season started with a moment of angst for Lunsford.

“I will never forget the first game against Cedar View Christian,” said Lunsford. “We walked into their gym, and I saw about five state championship signs. I said, ‘Girls, I’m still in football. Gosh, we haven’t scouted them or nothing.’ I asked the girls if they played them last year and they said, ‘Yea, we got beat.’ I was scared to death.”

But Cloudland found a way to turn the tables and beat Cedar View.

“We really improved a lot during that season,” said Lunsford.

Lunsford not only coached the high school team, he also pulled double duty as the junior high coach. His daughter, Jessica, was on the younger team. The crazy schedule didn’t keep him from guiding the high school team to a memorable season. The Lady Highlanders went 28-6 and came within a whisper of the state tournament, suffering an overtime loss to Oneida in the sectional.

“We should have been in the state tournament,” said Lunsford. “We had a 12-point lead, but lost in double or triple overtime. That right there was one of my favorite seasons of any year I’ve ever coached.”

Lunsford continued to coach basketball off an on as assistant at Hampton and Cloudland through the years.

This year’s first game

“I was nervous,” said Lunsford. “It had been a while since I was head coach of a basketball team.”

Lunsford was unable to hide his uneasiness from his players.

“The girls sensed I was nervous, and they got a little nervous, too,” said Lunsford. “I’m almost always nervous before a football game. When I quit being nervous, that’s when I will quit coaching.”

No worries, though, as Cloudland easily defeated Hancock County, 62-24.

Boys versus girls

In his experience, Lunsford said he believes girls have more of a desire to do things the way the coach wants them done.

“Girls probably want to please you more than boys do,” said Lunsford. “You don’t have to be quite as tough on the girls. They still practice hard, but you don’t have to be as much of an authoritarian.”

Basketball versus football

Lunsford said there is a major different between coaching the two sports.

“In football you’re making decisions: thinking about this play, what the next play will be, and the play after that depending on how things go with the previous play,” said Lunsford. “A football coach probably has a little more decision making and a little more control over the outcome of the game.

“In basketball, you better come ready to play. You can’t make decisions for the kids. They have to make the plays and make the movement.”

Who is the better coach?

Lunsford couldn’t break the tie between him on the bench or him on the sidelines.

“I don’t think I’m really good at either,” said Lunsford with a laugh.

He has 216 football coaching wins, and 35 so far in varsity basketball as Cloudland is 7-1 this season.

“I work as hard at one as I do at the other,” he said. “I do the best I can at both. I enjoy coaching. If a bunch of kids were out there playing soccer, I would probably try to help them. That’s just the way I am. I enjoy working with kids. That’s why I got into coaching. I love working with youngins.”

Dad? Coach Dad?

Lunsford is coaching his youngest daughter, Megan, these days. He’s also coaching her friends and peers.

“They’re all like my own kids because they’ve been at my house,” said Lunsford. “Trinity (Vines) and Megan have been best buddies since kindergarten.

“It’s a little different for them. I had just been the silly dad that played with them. Now I’m the coach. The first time I got on them, I don’t think they knew what to think.”

Lunsford said this year’s team is like a legacy team.

“Just about every kid on the team I’ve coached either their parent, or their aunt, or uncle or something,” said Lunsford.

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