E.K. Slaughter was in his first year as a student at UTC planning to major in physical therapy in 1995, but simply wasn’t comfortable with that career path.
So, Slaughter volunteered to assist Notre Dame football coach Lamar Brown with spring practice and started out coaching receivers. As a sophomore – student, that is – Slaughter received a $2,000 supplement.
When he was a student teacher at McConnell Elementary in Hixson, Slaughter coached defensive backs for Glen Ryan at Soddy-Daisy High School.
By the time he graduated college in 2000 Slaughter had five years of coaching experience.
“That’s unusual,” he said.
Post-graduation, Slaughter took off for Northwest Whitfield near Dalton, Ga., and worked for a year on head coach Ron Wheeler’s staff as a receivers coach. Before his second year could start, Wheeler was fired and Mike Falleur was hired. Falleur brought in an entirely new bunch of assistants, which, of course, was his right to do.
Slaughter was unemployed, and married.
In June of that year, Slaughter secured a teaching job back in Chattanooga at Rivermont Elementary and was coaching football at Hixson High School as the Wildcats’ defensive coordinator.
Three years later Slaughter moved to Red Bank as the offensive coordinator under coach Tim Daniels and was there from 2005-07, a stretch in which the Lions went 34-4 with back-to-back 12-1 seasons the final two years. In each of those last two seasons, Red Bank’s title drive was stopped by eventual Class 4A state champion Maryville.
Moving on up the coaching ladder, Slaughter was named head coach at Soddy-Daisy in 2008 and by 2009 he was the leading the Cleveland football program.
In 2011, he left Cleveland blue for a return to Red Bank blue and he will direct the Lions against Soddy-Daisy on Friday night in his team’s season opener.
“Cleveland was not a bad place to work and those years were pivotal to me as a coach and person,” Slaughter said. “People helped sharpen me as a person and guys like Robert Green, Donnie Yates, Jason McCowan and Eric Phillips were a tremendous help to me.”
But, after years of moving from job to job trying to find his niche, Slaughter now feels like he’s at home – and at peace with himself – and his vagabond days are likely over.
“It was a mutual decision that led me to leave Cleveland,” Slaughter said. “Now I’m at Red Bank and hope to stay here. I’m tired of moving around to different schools.
“Everything I’ve done was to move up in the profession, including the last move that might seem to be a lateral move to some, but it’s not to me.”
Slaughter, named Edward Kenneth after his late father – hence the E.K. – is a different coach these days, with a different vision. Not of teaching, but coaching.
“In my younger days, I was thinking more about winning, how much would I get paid, how many coaches I might have on staff,” he said. “I’ve got a family now (wife Arlene and children, Brayden, 4, and McKenzie, 2). I’m where I need to be with the type people I need to be with, at the type school I want to be and I’m happy.”
Slaughter has rearranged his priorities.
“My focus is to change lives, be a mentor to young people and make them quality young men,” he said.
Slaughter is entering his fifth year as a head coach and has a 22-22 record. He was 8-4 at Soddy-Daisy and reached the state playoffs. He posted a 14-18 mark at Cleveland with one playoff appearance in 2010.
The 35-year-old Slaughter, who was born in Chicago and moved to Chattanooga when he was “5 or 6 years old,” believes he can have a talented Red Bank squad in the District 6-AA title hunt.
The prize at the end of the regular season, of course, could be a return to the playoffs.
“I feel good about our chances,” he said. “There are a lot of games to play and they could go in different ways. It’s tough at a school that is used to winning and has a good tradition. You’ve got to take time and focus on the process of what it takes to win and not just focus on winning. Just go out there and play.”
The coach said there are four teams that can win the district title and as many as five have the ability to win “on any Friday night.”
“There’s that much talent in the district,” said Slaughter, one of three new coaches in the district. “Around the district the depth of linemen is not as good across the board, but there are enough athletes at quarterback and running back that you can be stopped 10 times and then break one for 50 yards. It’s that tough.”
Red Bank has made a habit of battling for the district title with playoff berths on the Lions have appeared in eight consecutive postseason appearances, including in 2011 when Sequoyah short circuited the Lions’ postseason with a 27-22 victory. Slaughter, obviously, wants to extend Red Bank’s playoff streak.
Offensively, a lot of the Lions’ hopes hinge on the play of a solid offensive line and quarterback Hagen Wilkey. Linebackers Corbin Mitchell and Jake Parker are the key components of the team’s defense.
“We have to do three things to win,” Slaughter said. “We have to do our job, give great effort and love our brother. We do those things and we’ll win a lot of football games.
“I like our kids. I think we’re tough. The kids have played together a long time. We have good leadership, good character. Overall, I think we’ll be mentally tough in a lot of tough situations.”
Red Bank finished second to East Hamilton in the 2011 District 6-AA race and there is no reason to believe that the Hurricanes, Lions, Tyner and possibly Brainerd won’t be near the top of the standings in this season.
So, Red Bank fans and administrators can thank Lamar Brown for helping steer Slaughter away from the field of physical therapy and toward coaching high school football.
That simple gesture on Brown’s part transformed E.K. Slaughter, who says he’s “blessed” for a career change that literally changed his professional life.
“I’d say Lamar was the most influential man in my life at that time,” Slaughter said. “My dad died when I was 11. Lamar filled that role for me in high school and when I got into coaching I knew I wanted to fill that void for other kids.”
(Contact Larry Fleming at email@example.com)