Be patient, he says, until the foundation is set. You must first earn the right to win.
“It doesn’t matter what kind of offense they’ve run in the past, we’re starting fresh,” Salas said Thursday after meeting with his players. “Starting new means we’re going to go young and we’re going to build.”
Like most coaches, Salas says the groundwork for success starts with discipline, something he’s tried to instill in players over the last decade during stops at South Johnston, Red Springs and West Bladen. His four-year plan in getting the Pirates to a conference — and state — championship level includes shaping kids into men through attitude, work ethic and leadership.
“I was raised in a single parent home and everything I learned about being a man came from football,” Salas said. “Football changed my life. If I didn’t have football, I would not have learned all those lessons about sacrifice, hard work and commitment.”
Salas jumped at the opportunity of joining other elite coaches in the 4A Southeastern Conference when the Lumberton job came open in November. He developed relationships with several contacts in Robeson County and at Lumberton while serving on Red Springs’ staff in 2011 and discovered the impact football had on the area.
“I always classified the Lumberton job as one of the top 20 in the state,” Salas said. “It was always on my radar.”
Leaving West Bladen behind in his wake after a winless season was an arduous task, one met with great emotions. The Knights return 16 starters this fall and seemed to improve late in the season with a more firm grasp of Salas’ up-tempo offense. The foundation to win, as Salas describes it, is there for the taking.
“My whole career has been in those kind of programs where you get there and it’s bad, then you transform it into something good,” Salas said. “I loved West Bladen, but in my heart, I always knew I would be the head coach at Lumberton one day. I just thought it would be five years down the road.”
For now, transitioning from a run-based Wing-T offense to the more fan-friendly Air Raid is the fun part for Salas and 10 soon-to-be-named assistant coaches. Under Mike Brill, Lumberton qualified for the postseason six consecutive seasons and relied largely on its defense to win games.
Salas says the Air Raid plays to an athlete’s strengths and is inviting to players who may not have come out for football in the past. Running a system popularized and nearly perfected by Johnny Football and the Texas A&M Aggies is attractive in the highlight-happy era of the spread.
“Sometimes, it’s not fun watching the fullback carry it 35 times and running all over the place,” Salas said. “Talking to George (Coltharp), it’s a system that recruits itself. Some athletes who are baseball or basketball only kids, may come play football. I always say that when kids play NCAA (video game), they can pick our offense. They can try to convince their mom that they’re practicing.”
Based out of the shotgun with four wide receiver sets, the Air Raid’s primary goal is to keep defenses off-balance with a fast pace and to strategically put the ball in the hands of that unit’s best players. Much of the game plan is centered around the quarterback who is usually given the freedom to adjust plays at the line of scrimmage based on what he sees from the defense.
Under the direction of 1A State Player of the Year Blake Greene, Red Springs advanced to the third round of the state playoffs for the second consecutive year last season utilizing the offense similar to the Run-and-Shoot. Greene accumulated 63 touchdowns and nearly 5,000 yards of total offense with one of the state’s best completion percentages.
“You’ve got guys like Blake that would shine in any system, but then you have other players that develop in a system when they probably wouldn’t have in a traditional offense,” Salas said. “Our whole program at Lumberton will be built on becoming a great passing team. Our tempo, the way we practice and the way we lift weights will be geared toward that element.”
Salas is assembling a star-studded local staff of assistants, a group highlighted by Red Springs defensive coordinator Ron Cook, Red Devils assistant Lawrence Ches and former South Robeson play-caller Taurius Baker. Baker is coming over from West Bladen to work with Pirate wide receivers and holds the title of assistant head coach. Salas will call plays and work with quarterbacks. Several current Lumberton assistant coaches are expected to be retained on Salas’ staff.
The Pirates will add a ninth grade team this season and Salas says all feeder programs will be transitioning over to the Air Raid offense.