ROWLAND — In 1995, Fairmont football wasn’t a job that just anyone wanted to go and coach.
The team was struggling, but Frank Jernigan took the job anyway. He wasn’t taking the job alone though. For the first time in his coaching career, he was bringing his son with him.
“I went with him to the job at Fairmont,” his son, Clay Jernigan, said. “They had won five games in seven years, and I said, ‘You don’t need to take that (butt) whooping by yourself so I’ll go in and take it with you’, and our first year there was tough.”
The Golden Tornadoes struggled to a 1-9 record that season but it started something bigger that would continue for the next nine years, as father and son would continue to coach together until the elder Frank retired from coaching.
Now, in 2014, that tradition is being revived at South Robeson, with the younger Clay bringing his father along to help coach and rebuild another struggling team.
“I’m expecting our first year here to be tough,” Clay said, “but I’m competitive. I want to win.”
Clay didn’t see any other way to go about building a winner at South Robeson that with his father at his side.
“I really enjoy it,” he said. “I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t do it. It’s a tough business, you have to have someone you trust beside you, and you try to surround yourself with good people.”
It wasn’t hard for Frank to agree to come along for the new coaching adventure either.
“All the years that I was a head coach, he was my right hand man,” Frank said. “He helped me coach, and when he took this job, he asked me if I’d come out of retirement and I felt like I owed it to him.”
With more than 45 years of coaching experience under his belt, there aren’t many better to bring along for a ride than Frank Jernigan. Standing beside him on a practice field, he can’t help but talk about the game of football.
“It’s like having someone that you can really lean on,” Clay said. “He has 46 years of experience and I’m excited. I coached without him for a while and I’m glad we’re back together.”
“We’ve always had a good working relationship,” Frank said. “We got a lot of things done at Fairmont and Purnell Swett, and I’m having a good time. I’m enjoying it.”
During their time together when Frank was the head coach, he said he always knew he had one person to rely on when it came to working together.
“He was the one coach that I could count on if I needed some help fertilizing the fields, opening weight room, he was always there, and that’s what I’m trying to do for him,” Frank said.
Working together was eased alone as well by the fact they both thought along the same lines.
“A lot of times we’d look at each other and we’d call the same play,” Frank said. “We’d look at each other and say, ‘We need to run 28 boat sweep’ or ‘We need to run the counter’ or we need to run this. He knew what I was looking for, and now I can return the favor to him.”
“He’d come down the sideline beside me and he’d say ‘We need to run this play’, and I’d say ‘It’s already called,’” Clay remembered. “Me and him are on the same page.”
The two bring a sense of trust to the sidelines as well.
“Any guy that has 46 years of coaching, that has been in this business that long, would not turn on somebody,” Clay said. “Being that he’s my dad, I know he’s got my back.
“He’ll be somewhere, and maybe (the fans) are talking a little negative towards me or something and he’ll say ‘Look, you don’t understand’. You have somebody in your corner that’s still battling with you, and will put out fires before fires start.”
Most of what Clay knows about football was learned from his father. The lessons he has learned are still being applied to the field, and taught to the kids they coach today.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned, is you’re never going to be worse than the day you were before,” Clay said. “Your worst practice is going to be the one that you had that day. Tomorrow is going to be better.”
Clay said he was learned how to place sports on the list of what is important from his father.
“Always put God first, put family second, put school work (third), and sports is easy,” he said, “but always put God first.”