Coach's Corner: North Panola's Carl Diffee
It didn’t take long for North Panola head coach Carl Diffee to put the Cougars back in the state championship conversation for 3A. In his first season as a varsity level head coach, he led the Cougars to a 10-3 record and one of their best seasons in the history of the school. The Cougars may have been defeated in the second round of the playoffs by Velma Jackson, but there were plenty of positive signs of things to come in the near future throughout the season.
Going into 2017, North Panola is looking to continue the process and follow it to a possible gold ball hoisting in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium come December. They return a host of athletes on both sides of the ball and a lot of their offensive production from a year ago. I talked to Diffee about his squad going into the summer.
SES: In your first year at the helm of the Cougars, what challenges did you face as a coach?
Diffee: “We started 12 new kids. The biggest challenge was figuring out our guys and building trust as a team.”
SES: I’ve seen the #BrickByBrick in tweets regarding your team. What does that symbolize?
Diffee: “That's our process. We want to focus on little things and doing things the right way. Every successful builder understands the importance of the foundation. We want to focus on who we are as people, students, then football players in that order.”
SES: Y'all had an excellent season last year offensively; especially in that 7-0 start y'all had to begin the season. What was a big key to that success?
Diffee: “A number of factors contributed to that but most notably would probably be our turnover ratio. Not only did we protect the ball better during that time but we forced a ton of mistakes by the other teams. Additionally, guys like Vonta Oliver and Kenneth Jefferson plus great play on the offensive line allowed us to be balanced and explosive.”
SES: Talk about what you saw out of your defense last season. Y'all gave up 41, 44, and 51 points in losses to some very good teams and y'all shut down the other team in most of your wins. What is your assessment of your defense last season and what will they need to do to take the next step in 2017?
Diffee: “In our three losses we couldn't move the football offensively or turned the ball over way too much for us to have a chance. As a whole we played very good defense all year. At times we were out manned strength wise and that has been a focus this offseason. We are looking for 11 guys who passionately pursue the football and take it away when they get there! Overall we have to be more mentally tough. We are inevitably going to turn the ball over and as an offensive coach myself I want 11 guys that don't care where they are playing at on the field... +10 or minus 10 they are going to bow up.”
SES: Vonta (Oliver), when I interviewed him for another piece shared me a story of how you literally got him off the bus to come out to practice when at first he didn't want to. What did that go to show about you changing the culture there in your first season?
Diffee: “Focusing on the kids and developing them as people. Our process had a lot to do with it and a lot to do with a great group of kids who were hungry and willing to work.”
SES: What players do you expect to have a breakout year?
Diffee: “Sylvonta Oliver and KJ won't be breakout per say because people already know about them. But they will be special. Tyler Shorter, Demarco Smith, and Chris Clark will have huge years.”
SES: In one season, you made North Panola a championship contender in 3A. What will be needed to get over the hump and take the next step?
Diffee: “We are going to have to be more disciplined and focused more than ever on doing things the right way. We start summer work tomorrow and our commitment has to be 100% from everybody in our organization. The most important factor to our success is going to be how our 22 seniors lead.”
SES: Are there going to be any adjustments in the X's and O's that y'all plan to make as the season approaches?
Diffee: “We will be similar in scheme to what we've been the last four years. We will try to remain balanced in our attack but each game will dictate our approach. We are blessed with some unbelievable athletes right now who understand our system and we have been able to expand that system to new areas for 2017.”
SES: Talk a little about what this team means to its community and it's school.
Diffee: “Last year was amazing for our community, unbelievable support week in and week out. There is definitely a buzz around town and as a whole a lot of pride. North Panola has had its down years... but all in all, there is a rich tradition of success in terms of football. Teams like those of 2013/14, 1990/1989, and 1970/1971 left a great legacy for this bunch of kids to follow.”
SES: North Panola wins their first state championship if...?
Diffee: “Collectively, we focus on our process and getting better each day, stay healthy, and have a little luck!”