The success of former players Nathan McPeek and Luke Salmons has their former college coach beaming.
Bob Pruett though isn’t surprised at how McPeek and Salmons, who were outstanding linemen at Marshall University, have found a way to win big as high school football coaches.
“I’ve been over to the practices and seen their games,” he said. “I’m so proud of them I could just bust. What you see are guys that are conscientious and pay attention to detail.”
Just like Pruett, who guided Marshall University’s program from 1996 to 2004 and enjoyed two undefeated seasons while winning an astounding 80 percent of his games.
McPeek was an Iron Man at offensive tackle for Pruett’s last teams. He earned all-conference honors in three of four years. Salmons lined up right beside him at offensive guard one season and the opposite guard for another season. Together they opened up plenty of holes for Thundering Herd running backs.
They also earned the respect of Pruett for their toughness.
“They’re thinking is a lot like ours. We were fortunate. We had a bunch of good players and were able to win some games. We loved how they played.”
Now, he loves how they coach. McPeek has Fairview High School in the Class A semifinals for the first time in school history with a Friday night date with destiny against Hazard in Westwood.
Salmons, who coached Lawrence County for two seasons, has moved on to West Virginia where he is the head coach at Cabell Midland. The Knights are in the Class AAA playoffs and have a home game Friday against Morgantown.
That left Pruett with a bit of a dilemma although he’d already promised Salmons that he would be at his game Friday.
You can bet that the former Marshall coach will also be keeping tabs on the Eagles, too.
Pruett said he speaks often with both of his former players and offers them any advice he can. However, he’s satisfied that the record speaks for itself in terms of if they have become outstanding high school coaches.
McPeek has been the head coach at Fairview for five seasons and compiled a 52-11 record.
He has won 11, 12 and 13 the past three seasons heading into Friday’s semifinal game.
Salmons showed at Lawrence County that he could turn around a program. He went 0-11 in his first season but came back with 12-1 and 9-3 in his last two years in Louisa.
Salmons moved on to Cabell Midland last season and now has the Knights within a game of playing for the state championship.
Pruett has visited the lockerrooms at both Fairview and Cabell Midland and sees a lot of similarities in the way McPeek and Salmons direct their teams. Their teams take on the same kind of toughness and aura as their head coaches, who starred in the trenches on a highly successful team.
They have remained close friends as well, relying on each other as sounding boards during a long season. “I think they talk to each other about every week,” Pruett said.
Cabell Midland, like Fairview, is also undefeated. The Knights are 12-0.
“The biggest thing with Coach Pruett is he cares about the kids,” Salmons said. “That taught me a lot. He treated people right. It didn’t matter if you were a walk-on or whatever. That’s why he had a lot of support.”
Salmons said the relationship from coach to player is important no matter what level you’re coaching. He learned that from Pruett.
McPeek would also be considered a “player’s coach” too.
Salmons also takes the kind of confidence he learned at Marshall into every game he coaches.
“Ninety percent is believing in what you’re doing,” he said. “Offense, defense, whatever. We always had that feeling at Marshall that it didn’t matter. We never ever felt like we weren’t going to win. He did a good job of getting us to buy into that.”
Pruett said McPeek was an amazing player for Marshall and was good enough to be blocking on Sundays if not for a back injury. McPeek went to tryout camp with the Green Bay Packers but the back injury didn’t allow him to stick with the NFL team.
“He started as a true freshman (at offensive tackle) and didn’t give up a sack,” Pruett said. “If he didn’t get hurt, he’d had a long career in the NFL.”
McPeek and Salmons also paid close attention to Pruett and other coaching mentors.
Ivan McGlone, who was McPeek’s high school coach at Russell, stopped by and talked to Fairview on Wednesday.
“I think you never stop learning,” McPeek said.
Pruett talked to Fairview’s players before the Eagles played Raceland for the district championship.
McPeek, who played at Marshall from 2000 to 2003, was part of two MAC championship teams and three Thundering Herd bowl teams, including the memorable comeback win over East Carolina in the 2001 GMAC Bowl.
McPeek recalled Pruett’s halftime speech to the Herd after they trailed 38-8 against East Carolina.
Herd offensive line coach Mike McHale walked off the field with Pruett and told him he needed to stay positive.
“Coach Pruett was pretty upset,” McPeek said. “He said, ‘Coach McHale told me to be positive. Well, I’m positive if your (butts) don’t start playing better you’re walking back to Huntington.’’’
The speech lit a fire under Marshall, which rallied for the 64-61 victory in double overtime.
Salmons started two seasons, including one at left guard beside McPeek.
“He was a good player,” McPeek said. “Luke has done a great job (at Cabell). “He’s real good with the offseason programs. I think we do a good job with that as well.”
Pruett looks for both coaches to continue growing and building strong programs. They have what it takes in every fashion.
“I’m proud of them both for what they’ve accomplished,” he said. “They have the work ethic it takes to be successful coaches. They’re good coaches, they were good players and they’re good people. That’s what you want working with your kids.”
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2648.