We have selected Coach Olanda James as our Coach of the Month for June 2020. Check out his story below to learn more about his journey into coaching:
Name: Coach Olanda James
Branch: U.S. Army
Most recent rank and status: Retired Master Sergeant (E-8)
What sport(s) do you coach?
Football, although I coached Lacrosse for the first time this spring.
Which organization do you coach for and which level?
Pebblebrook High School (Mableton, GA) – Varsity
What is your coaching title? Nickels Coach, Recruiting Coordinator
What was your last win/lost record to date? 3-7 (Freedom High School (Orlando, FL) – Varsity)
How long have you been coaching? I will be entering my 18th season coaching football this fall.
What has been your experience like in Soldiers To Sidelines? I have had a great experience with Soldiers To Sidelines from the start. I heard about it from my Offensive Coordinator, at my previous school, the day before he was scheduled to fly out to attend the STS Coaches Clinic last fall with the NY Jets. I decided to research the company and quickly signed up thinking that I would be able to be placed on the list for the next opportunity whenever it was scheduled. Not even 30 minutes later, I got a phone call from Harrison who introduced himself and asked if I would be able to attend the current clinic because there was a vacancy due to another coach not being able to attend. I got approved on the spot by my supervisor, scheduled a flight, and was checking into the clinic the next day. The experience was phenomenal. Everything from the instruction to the breakout sessions with some of the NY Jets staff, to the hands-on coaching instruction, was excellent. Being able to do all of this in the Jets facility was mind-blowing. I never would have thought that an NFL team would take the time out of a game week to focus on anything but the upcoming game.
Since then, I was able to attend an evening STS Social Meet and Greet that was held in Nashville, TN during the American Football Coaches Association Convention. Coaches from the high school level to Division I (FBS) level were in attendance and we were able to talk football, break bread, and begin to establish and build relationships.
Another great experience(s) has been attending virtual chalk talks through STS’s Facebook page. The opportunity to watch as well as invite fellow coaches who may not be alumni of STS or even militarily affiliated is great. It not only allows us to grow and learn, but it helps to spread the word about STS and again, works to build relationships.
How has STS helped you in your coaching career? STS has helped me in my career by providing the educational opportunity to continue to develop as a coach with the X’s and O’s, as well as a leader. This began with the 2019 clinic and has continued with the chalk talks.
What is your favorite aspect of coaching (your sport)? My favorite aspect of coaching football is the opportunity to mentor Student-Athletes. I know that many of them aspire to play football for the NFL, and while I want to prepare them mentally and physically for the challenges of the sport, I want to build their resilience to handle the adversity that life will bring them. The Head Coach at the first high school said, “we will have no idea what impact we have had on a kid until years from now when they return to visit and is introducing us to his spouse and kids.” Even now with heightened tension is in the country from the heinous acts of some police, we have to realize that we could get the call one day that it was one of our former Student-Athletes whose life was taken. So, I intend to use football as a tool to teach and mentor them to live long, safe, positive, and productive lives while being willing to fight for what is right.
Tell us a story about your background and why you decided to get into coaching? As many kids today grow up with dreams and aspirations of pro football, I did as well. Unfortunately, my 5’8”, 175lb frame wasn’t going to cut it as an offensive lineman anywhere other than the high school played for. I had some tough coaches who backed up my parents with instilling discipline and a great work ethic. A year after graduating from high school, I enlisted in the Army. I can remember being in Basic Combat Training and the grilling we all took the day we completed in-processing and were turned over to our Drill Sergeants. It was a moment of establishing who was in charge and running things but at an extremely loud and in your face type of tactic. The vast majority of us remained steadfast and just dealt with it. At the time, I didn’t think it, but as I looked back and even now, I know that sports and football specifically instilled some traits in me that got me through it all. It helped to lay a foundation for the U.S. Army to build upon.
Tell us a story about an instance where the STS tutelage has helped you in a coaching moment with one or a few of your players? One key area which has proved helpful was taught by Harrison, and I even used it today at practice. He taught us at the STS Coaches Clinic about the physics and body mechanics of the running, acceleration, and deceleration to change direction, for example with wide receivers. Being able to explain the benefits of adjusting their stance allowed them to buy into making the change as opposed to them thinking that I wanted their stances to look a certain way just because.
How far do you want to go in coaching? To be honest, as a football coach, I am at my desired level but would like to become a coordinator. Now, I believe that answer would be different if I was in my mid 20’s, but at this point, the work-life benefits of coaching at the high school level are the best fit for me.
When I retired from the Army in 2014, coaching was not my goal but it was a key to get into football operations at the collegiate level. Having worked in operations for several years in the Army, I saw a way that I could use those skills. Instead of coordinating a unit’s deployment, housing, meals, and coordinating training, I could transition those skills and apply them to college football.
In 2015, I started graduate school and began work towards a Masters in Recreation and Sport Management at the University of Tennessee. After meeting some of my classmates who were graduate assistants with the Volunteer Football Team, I began to inquire about position vacancies and the process of being considered. Unfortunately, that route dead-ended. As I was completing my first year of grad school, I remembered meeting Coach Pete Fredenburg before transitioning out of the Army. He is the Head Football Coach for the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (UMHB) (DIII), which is the most winningest football program in the state of Texas from Pop Warner to the NFL. I reached out to Coach Fred, and he allowed me to intern in recruiting during the summer to meet my graduation requirement. As I was completing the internship, I was hungry for more. Well, as they say, you have to be careful of what you ask for, or at least have an open mind, which I did thankfully. I was offered a position to serve as a Volunteer Defensive Assistant Football Coach and JV Linebackers Coach because they still had a vacant graduate assistant position. I had a steep learning curve and learned more football in those five months of coaching than what I knew combined. On top of that, I worked more hours in a day consistently in those five months than I did in my entire career in the Army, outside of being deployed. The amount of time that is put in to prepare for the 2-3 hours that you watch on television every Saturday is EXPONENTIALLY greater. The sport as a whole earned much more respect from me.
Since then, I interned for a DI (FCS), coached for an IFL team, and returned to UMHB as the Recruiting Coordinator (GA), winning the DIII National Championship, but returned to the high school ranks to be able to have a greater impact on Student-Athletes and for a better work-life balance.
What do you do for work to earn money? I am an In-School Suspension Paraprofessional and Assistant Football Coach at Pebblebrook High School.
How has your company empowered you to coach in the community? With this being a new school and position, at this point, I see the principal's expectations in conjunction with the school’s strategic plan to be the empowering force for the football staff to continue relationship building within the community. There are a middle school football program and a community youth football organization that allows us to build relationships with the up and coming Student-Athletes and the coaching staff through football camps and coaching clinics.