This column represents part of thecrescentbuzz.com’s continuing coverage this week on the life, legacy and impact of Eagle’s Landing football coach Joe Teknipp who passed away last Saturday following a bout with stomach cancer. Brian Paglia is a former sports writer at the Henry Daily Herald newspaper in McDonough, Ga. who covered Teknipp and Eagle’s Landing football at the beginning of Teknipp’s tenure as coach. Paglia is now the Sports Editor of the Forsyth County News.
Joe Teknipp and I met at a point in our lives where we both hoped to do big things.
In the summer of 2008, I was hired as a sports reporter at the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald. It was my first significant journalism job. Teknipp was approaching the start of his first season as head football coach at Eagle’s Landing High School. The team had gone 0-10 the year before.
Our first meeting was in a field in the back of Eagle’s Landing’s campus. I walked through a short wooded path that opened up to a small cove surrounded by trees. There was Teknipp and the Golden Eagles grinding through a summer practice.
And Teknipp was beaming. He was proud of Eagle’s Landing’s new uniforms; he’d chosen to stylize them after LSU. He was boiling over in enthusiasm for his players. He was so proud of his new school. That’s the indelible image I have of Teknipp after he succumbed to cancer July 4: a wide smile, leaning in toward you as he spoke.
As Teknipp and I both set forth on our new ventures, he certainly set the pace. That first season he led Eagle’s Landing to a 6-5 record and a state playoff appearance, just the second in program history since the school opened in 1992.
The next few seasons were trying on Teknipp and Golden Eagles football, but that’s because Teknipp was raising the standard of what it took to play for Eagle’s Landing. He instituted a character contract that players had to sign. They’d have to meet a certain level of conduct on and off the field. Numbers in the program dropped as players transferred or just didn’t come out for the team. The wins dropped too; Eagle’s Landing went 1-9 in 2009 and 2010.
But Teknipp was resolute. When he first came to Eagle’s Landing, he thought he’d build the Golden Eagles by galvanizing the near-by country club community. There was talent within that enclave playing at south metro Atlanta private schools, and ostensibly financial resources to fund the program’s wildest ambitions. If they would come to Eagle’s Landing, Teknipp thought, the Golden Eagles might soar. But after three seasons, it was clear that wasn’t going to happen.
It also seemed Teknipp didn’t care if the country club noticed anymore. Eagle’s Landing had pulled at his emotions too much already.
My favorite memory of Teknipp isn’t the time he took his shoes off and gave them to a student who whose own were battered. Nor is it watching him paint the lines on the field or taping players’ ankles before games. Or listening to him walk me through the moments when he applied a defibrillator and then administered CPR to former Eagle’s Landing boys basketball star Eric Wortham as he clung to life on the cafeteria floor.
My favorite memory is of the time Teknipp let me come behind the scenes of Eagle’s Landing football for the Golden Eagles’ game on Oct. 19, 2012. It was Senior Night. Eagle’s Landing was 0-7. County and region rival Woodland was coming in that night.
I brought my camera and watched as Teknipp and the Golden Eagles went through their Friday night rituals. He started out with his white dress shirt untucked and unbuttoned as he raced around the field and locker rooms.
Kickoff neared, so players congregated in the weight room as they finished getting ready.
Teknipp came in looking his Jim Tressel-best, like the Euclid, Ohio native that he was. Before he prayed with the team, he gave them some protocols for the Senior Night halftime festivities. He told them to hug their mothers. If they were fortunate enough to have their father there, look him in the eye and shake his hand.
Because Teknipp was all about family, the one he had at home, and the one he coached at Eagle’s Landing.
I know both miss him already.
Brian Paglia is sports editor of the Forsyth County News.