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Chain reaction of influence spells Pharr’s success at FHS


While Tommy Pharr's mother suffered severe kidney problems into his early teen years, coach Willis Wright's support was a huge comfort to family.

Such caring left a lasting impression, reinforcing Pharr's desire to teach and coach.

“My mother died when I was fifteen years old, he was very supportive of me and kinda drew me in,” Pharr said of Wright, a highly successful football coach including at Saltillo High School in northeast Mississippi where the future Farragut High School baseball skipper attended in the mid-1970s.

“Willis Wright was probably one of the biggest influences on my life growing up,” added Pharr, entering his 10th season as FHS head coach with three Class AAA state titles, three runner-up finishes and a 325-73-1 record on his Admiral resume.

“I probably wouldn't be where I am — probably not even a college education — if it hadn't been for coaches that I had. People that were important to me throughout my life were people I had that were coaches.”

Pharr was a freshman and sophomore at Saltillo before transferring to Belmont [Miss.] High, where he graduated in 1977.

Chuck Griffin, FHS Dugout Club former president and current Special Projects coordinator with the club, said Pharr's influence both on and off the field is, as with Wright, far-reaching.

“Everybody knows about his on-the-field leadership and production, but what those of us involved in the program understand, it's his off-the-field leadership in terms of what's beyond baseball and helping form young men,” Griffin said. “As well as being able to guide the parents in terms of improvements surrounding the whole ballpark and the community.

“He emphasizes community involvement in terms of helping others,” Griffin added.

On the field, “His success on the field speaks for itself.”

Among Pharr's players as head coach at Class A Monterey High School in Middle Tennessee (1991-92 through 1994-95) was Matt Buckner, a standout catcher who followed in Pharr's footsteps as a teacher-coach.

They would come full circle in 2002 and 2003 when Buckner joined Pharr's staff as assistant coach at FHS. The former Monterey standout is beginning his fourth season as head coach at archrival Bearden.

Remaining close to his mentor, Buckner said Pharr “has always been intense,” adding, “I don't know anybody who knows the game better.. He studies the game, always trying to get better.

“A passion for the game that's bled through on the players,” he added. “That lasted on me.

“I definitely wouldn't be where I'm at today without coach Pharr, he's definitely the reason I'm coaching baseball today. ... He's a workhorse. I've never met a more fierce competitor.”

However, “He's an even better man than he is a baseball coach,” Buckner said.

PREPARATION TIME

A high school pitcher/first baseman at Saltillo and Belmont, Pharr said he never earned any individual awards or honors of note.

“I was a pretty good high school player, but not a great one,” Pharr said, adding he “wasn't good enough” to play college baseball. “I had average stuff. The best thing was I could locate a little bit, but nothing extra-special.

“I might could have played at a two-year college, but I felt I was going to coach and teach, and that's the route I went.”

Financially, Pharr said he put himself through Northeast Mississippi Junior College (two years) and then Mississippi State University (two years, graduating in 1984) — having to wait two years after junior college before saving enough money for tuition and other MSU expenses.

As for picking up baseball knowledge at Mississippi State, “It was good to go there, it was a great baseball school,” said Pharr, who attended the school while such future Major League stars such as Rafael Palmeiro and Will Clark wore Bulldog maroon.

Though Pharr said he went to MSU games whenever possible, “throughout my college years I worked about forty hours a week,” he said. “I'd work on the weekends, and two or three nights a week at convenience stores.

“Later, as I got out of college, as I was working camps, I got to be around [MSU head] coach [Ron] Polk and [now Florida head] coach [Pat] McMahan.”

EARLY COACHING YEARS

Pharr's first coaching job, coming right out of college, was in Red Bay, Ala., a small school in the northwest corner of the state “near Muscle Shoals” where he served as baseball head coach while assisting in football. “From that point on it just kinda took off more with baseball,” he said.

At Red Bay, “It was close to where I'm from,” the coach said, “and we had good kids. I was there three years; my last year we finished second in the state. I enjoyed it. It was a great experience. Great first coaching job.”

His early Red Bay success “kinda got me excited about what I was doing,” Pharr said. “I learned a lot about baseball and just about coaching and handling kids in-general.”

As for faults, “Patience is something I'm still learning,” Pharr said. “... Realizing kids are kids and they've got other interests besides my interests. Probably the biggest thing was learning how to handle different kids, and that's still an ongoing thing, too. ...”

After Red Bay, Pharr entered the Volunteer State to become assistant baseball coach at Cookeville High for the 1987-88 season.

Staying in Cookeville while entering the college coaching realm, Pharr served three years as graduate assistant coach — while working on his master's degree — at Tennessee Tech (1988-91).

Pharr's best Monterey team reached the region finals, “A major accomplishment,” he said.

OTHER COACHING INFLUENCES

“There have been some people that have been huge as far as my coaching,” Pharr said, including Steve Smith, head coach at Baylor University who hired Pharr as a volunteer coach for two years after Monterey (1995-96 and 1996-97).

Working with pitchers, “My job to make a living was to take care of the baseball field,” Pharr said about his baptism into big-time field maintenance, the talents of which have been put into FHS's John Heatherly Field with the resulting reputation as one of Tennessee’s best high school parks.

Overall at Baylor, “It was a good learning experience about baseball and about people.” Pharr added. “And I met my wife there [Anne].”

Pharr also praised McMahan. “I used to work a lot of camps at Mississippi State when he was a pitching coach there,” Pharr said.

COMING TO ADMIRAL LAND

Married and planning for children by the late 1990s, Pharr said he was looking “for a more stable situation, especially financially.”

Enter Farragut High School.

Learning about the FHS job from Tennessee Volunteer head coach Rod Delmonico, a Farragut resident, and UT assistant Larry Simcox, “They both felt there was pretty good talent here, and there'd been a good history of baseball here with coach [John] Heatherly and coach [Herky] Payne,” Pharr said.

Pharr said the decision “has been a blessing ever since we've been here.”

On the job, “My first year here, George Curtis and Richard Maples were our booster club presidents,” he said. “They kinda set the foundation for our club up. …. They kinda started the ball rolling. The ball's kinda gotten a little bigger.

“It takes a lot to run the program, and our parents are great, the booster club's great, our folks are great and supportive of our program,” Pharr added. “I think that's a big part of our winning.”

HAPPY AT FHS

“Five years ago I had an opportunity to go somewhere as a pitching coach, but at the time we were getting ready to have our second child, the timing wasn't good,” Pharr said.

The Pharrs’ children are Case, 6, and Callie Jo, 5.

Still itching to leave? “I'm very content where I'm at,” he said. “Farragut's a big part of my life, people have been good to me. We enjoy it here, we feel like this is our home and our kids' home.

"It would have to be pretty special situation for me to leave.”

 

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