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Temple holds on to reins’ in WC’s state title run

[06/04/01] Sam Temple’s approach to individual honors is nothing like his approach to the game.

Confident, self-assured and sometimes menacing on the field, he sinks his teeth into everything about baseball. But the 30-year-old Warren Central coach tries his best to dodge the praise that has been heaped on him since guiding the Vikings to their first Class 5A state championship in baseball.

In just his fifth year as a head coach, Temple led WC to a school-record 36 wins, a No. 6 national ranking, a No. 1 state ranking and was picked to coach the North in the Class 4A/5A All-Star Game in the first year he was eligible to do so.

Add to that list another Vicksburg Post Coach of the Year award.

With his resume, it’s going to be hard for him to avoid the personal accolades.

“Being with those guys that was the biggest reward,” Temple said, referring to his players. “It is just a joy and a blessing to be their coach.

“My job was just to hold on to the reins.”

After losing their last two regular-season games, Temple steered the Vikings through a loaded bracket in the playoffs.

“We fixed it,” Temple said of the late-season problems. “A lot of it had to do with what the players did. They understood that the playoffs is a rebirth.”

And they were born stronger.

They went undefeated against some of the most tradition-rich teams in the state, even after starting catcher Kevin Coker was sidelined with a broken finger and No. 2 pitcher Brian Pettway was unable to pitch because of nagging injuries.

Still, they beat Starkville and Madison Central in the first two rounds, then Tupelo for the North State championship and Hattiesburg for the 5A title.

Starkville, Tupelo and Hattiesburg won a combined six state championships in the 1990s.

“After we beat Tupelo at Tupelo, where they are just unbeatable, we were totally confident,” Temple said, adding that a demanding schedule prepared the team for the title run.

The Golden Wave had been undefeated at home.

“When I think about (the playoff run), I still sit back and say, Wow,’ ” Temple said.

But he doesn’t take any credit.

Instead, he points to the players, assistant coach Randy Broome, the fans, even the supernatural.

“It was just a lot of guys doing their jobs,” said Temple, whose career record is 124-36. He was also coach of the year in 1998.

“Each young man on that team had a part in it. If you have a quality team and guys, sooner or later, things will go your way if you have persistence and a good work ethic.”

Temple said the players’ parents, who “followed us all over the place,” and the community helped keep them fired up.

“They all rallied behind us,” he said. “To have people you don’t even know come up to you, hugging you and crying, that’s what it’s all about.”

Temple, who came back to his hometown to take his first head-coaching job after two years as a graduate assistant at Delta State, implemented a plan for success immediately.

It didn’t pay off at first.

With an eye on the future, he fielded younger players in the second half of the season the Vikings finished 10-17. Temple also had to change his approach from that of a college coach to high school.

“The plan … had to have some modifying,” he said. “The plan matured as I have matured.”

Four-hour practices are still the rule at WC, but Temple has admitted that he had to learn to back off a bit on his hard-nosed attitude and remember that he was coaching high-schoolers.

But making one change back to college style helped WC this year. Temple started coaching from the dugout while letting Broome take over his duties at third base. Student-assistant David Leon coached first.

“It allowed me to play a broader role,” said Temple, who started using the system over the summer and liked the results. “It gives me a chance to give instant feedback to a player about an at-bat, plus I can have more in-depth conversations in the dugout. It also lets me coach the young men that are not in the game. I can explain situations to them.”

Though Temple still called the game from the dugout, he said he couldn’t have made the move without a quality assistant.

“With Randy, I couldn’t ask for a better situation,” Temple said. “He’s as dedicated as me and he’s a great coach and a great human being. Having someone like him would make anyone’s job easier.”

As for guiding the once-mediocre Vikings to the No. 6 spot in USA Today’s poll, Temple still doesn’t flex his ego.

“It’s great for people to look at … but how do they really know?” he said when asked about that poll. “Our guys see the teams ranked ahead of us and want to get up a tournament with them. That’s the mentality of our guys they want to prove it.”

The team did just that in the state playoffs, Temple said, and also earned the No. 1 spot in The Clarion-Ledger’s final poll. Temple also won that paper’s state coach of the year award.

“This is one year that the team at the top has the right to say, Yeah, we earned it.’ “