Clark Harrell knows a little something about rebuilding high school football programs. He suspects that's one of the biggest reasons Smithfield High picked him as its new head coach.
Harrell, 55, takes over a Smithfield team that went 1-9 a year ago after a handful of winning seasons. That's actually a better situation than when he inherited at Franklinton High in North Carolina.
"The first thing we looked at was the defense," Harrell said of pouring over game video upon his arrival at Franklinton. "They had given up 444 points in 11 games the year before, and we cut that down to 239 points in 13 games my first season.
"The practice field is where we got better. I think the most precious thing for a football team is time on the practice field.
"It's more important than the field or the lighting or the uniforms or the helmets."
A one-year stint at Kempsville High in Virginia Beach aside, Harrell has spent most of his life playing or coaching football in North Carolina. After graduating from Tarboro High, he played outside linebacker at East Carolina University.
Following graduation in 1979, Harrell served as a graduate assistant to Ed Emory at ECU while earning a master's degree in health and physical education. Harrell said his record in 28 seasons as a prep head coach is 195-126 and that his teams have reached the playoffs 15 times since the mid-1990s.
He replaces Tyris Hill, whose four seasons as the Packers coach included three winning records and a share of the 2009 Bay Rivers District title. Hill was released as coach in November for undisclosed reasons in a vote by the Isle of Wight County School Board.
Harrell was selected from a pool of applicants Smithfield athletic director and former football coach Miles Blount labeled the largest he can remember during his more than four-decade association with the school.
"I'm very humbled and very flattered to be selected," said Harrell, who will teach health and P.E. at Smithfield. "I know there are some mighty good people at Smithfield, and that Miles Blount is a top-notch person, coach and athletic director."
Smithfield administrators returned the compliments.
"Coach Harrell brings a wealth of experience and enthusiasm to the Packer program," Smithfield principal Rebecca Mercer said in announcing his hire. "He will be instrumental in moving the team in the new direction we envision for our football team."
Said Blount, "I was impressed by his knowledge and his ability to portray that he can make coaching football fun."
Harrell said that he employs the spread offense, a formation likely to be popular in a program which often features an abundance of speed. He favors a 4-3 defensive alignment, but added he'll adjust depending on the opposition.
Harrell admits he knows precious little at the moment about the opposition he'll face in the Bay Rivers.
"My buddies up there have told me that it's a real good district: one of the best in the state," he said. "But right now, York High School is just a name on a piece of paper to me."