WHITE HOUSE — Friday night or Saturday morning may never be the same for James Honeycutt, but the lifestyle adjustment opens new doors after his retirement from coaching high school football.
The former defensive coordinator for the White House Blue Devils retired from coaching after the 2012 season, leaving – at the time – as the longest-tenured assistant on the staff of head coach Jeff Porter. Honeycutt came to White House, his alma mater, in 1990 and remains there as a teacher. He coached defense, led the offseason workout program, and was the key game planner on weekends scouting opponent film to prepare for other coaches.
“I think Saturday morning will be a tough time, but it’s hard to know how to respond because I have never been in that situation before,” Honeycutt said. “I am sure going to miss it. You talk about Saturday morning to late Sunday nights — that takes a big portion of your life out.
“I told Jeff when I decided to retire, I would be willing to do whatever he needed me to do. I just won’t be in the heat of everything anymore. Coach (Mark) Lamberth and I were talking one day about years we had coached, and people, and sometimes you look back and it just didn’t seem real that it could be over with and that the time had passed that quickly.”
Honeycutt’s attention to detail was noticed by the members of the coaching staff, and his preparation put White House in position to be in the postseason every single season, without fail.
“Mr. Detail would be a good name for Coach Honeycutt. He has taken great pride for many years in trying to cover all the possible situations that our defense could be placed in on Friday nights,” Coach Porter said. “As with all coaches, it is our responsibility to have other players ready to go in on a Friday night. Some of that responsibility falls on the shoulders of the players and the rest on a coach’s shoulders in providing the reps in practice for those players.
“Coach Honeycutt has always done a good job in having his players ready to play in case one gets injured. I believe that started with his expectations of his position players. They knew he would not accept “any excuses” so they had to buy in to his expectations.”
His work as an assistant was recognize even outside the program. Last year, he was named the District 9-AA assistant coach of the year for the second time.
His “coaching” for the 2013-14 school year will be limited to the Health and Wellness class at White House High School, one of the most popular electives among all students, housed in the football’s indoor practice facility. He is a 1979 graduate of WHHS, and played on a team which appeared in a state title game. He will still be a teacher at the school.
“It is an important class at school and something that was talked about for a few years before they every put it in the curriculum, and now I have been doing it for 15-16 years,” he explained. “I get to be around different kids and see them grow from the start of the semester to the end and teach them things along the way that can benefit them in life, and throughout their life they will try to do those things that go along with what we teach.”
Honeycutt has 28 total years of teaching with a 30-year tenure a common mark for retirement, but he is also certified to be an administrator in the school system. He received K-12 licensure endorsement through the state of Tennessee which would certify him to be a principal or assistant. He graduated from Tennessee State University in 1983 and later obtained his Masters and Plus-30 from TSU. He has been married for 24 years to Dawn and they reside in White House.
“I actually started thinking about administration about 2005-06, and a job did come open in 2008 and in the end I didn’t think I was ready to quit coaching,” Honeycutt said. “I would definitely like to stay in the community if at all possible, and as many people that I have been blessed to know in any of the three schools but you never know what other avenues there may be.”
Looking back, the relationships with people will be the toughest thing in coaching to let go.
“The day-to-day relationships that you develop with coaches, parents, kids, it’s kind of everybody,” he explained. “When it comes to communication within the relationships, it’s as much in the offseason as during the season.”
Honeycutt also handled the offseason workout program, and was at one time the head baseball coach at White House before later focusing on football exclusively. After coming to White House in 1990, he shifted soon into the defensive coordinator role. The Blue Devils won the 1997 state championship, defeating the high-powered Memphis Melrose offense, 30-20.
“As far as a career, that was right up there with a lot of them,” Honeycutt said. “I’m sitting here looking at a picture of us coming out of the tunnel after the game was over. I rode back with the trophy in my lap. It wasn’t planned, it just happened. But I wasn’t complaining. That was a long process.”
A glance at the past involves hundreds of games. Losses in the 1993 semifinals to Springfield, or 1998 to Roane County and the 2008 game at Knoxville Catholic stand out. But even tougher is the personal side of coaching that involves players and their lives. But it has a positive, too.
“I hate losing kids period,” he said. “I hate seeing people leave our program, and when tragedy takes kids it’s even tougher. Kids get one opportunity play and we want to make the best experience while they can while they are there.
“Wins and losses come, it’s seeing kids grow and develop into good young men that can lead in society. That’s what it’s all about.”
Coach Porter hopes the transition is a great one for a coach that has dedicated himself to making the Blue Devil program a huge success.
“My hope is that he will be able to enjoy his time now that football is not an everyday, attention to detail, part of his life. He deserves to relax and it is my hope that he finds great enjoyment of what life has to offer other than football,” Porter explained. “I think it is hard sometimes for those on the outside to realize the total grind it is 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
“James has given much of his life to that grind and he would be the first to tell you that was his choice. However, in coaching it is so hard to let up or do something different. We (coaches) are programmed in when everyone is enjoying a great win on Friday night, our minds are already thinking about the next game or how bad is the player hurt and who is going to take his place.
“I hope Coach Honeycutt can enjoy watching the Blue Devils play and not have to worry or stress about the other aspects.”
He is a popular coach, a well-respected teacher, and there are many people in White House who will have nothing but great memories of the coach they call “Duke.” His grandfather, Tillman Freeman, gave him the nickname.
Prior to WHHS, he coached in baseball and football at Westmoreland from 1985-1989.
“Ron Taylor and Roger Perry gave me the opportunity to get started in high school football and Jeff (Porter) and Principal Bobby Jo Langford gave me the opportunity to come back home,” Honeycutt said. “It’s something I always wanted to do. I was thankful for the opportunity to go somewhere else first and gave me perspective and chances to learn other facets of football and a lot of different teachers.
“As many years as I have spent at White House, I had a lot of good people in my life and too many to remember. Those are the things I will miss the most.”
In the end, that’s what matters.
“I hope the fans, when they see him this year, will say ‘Thanks, Coach, for caring about our kids, our school and our community.’” Porter added. “I think those words would mean more to him than you would know.”