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New Buckner Admiral Era
Matt Buckner takes over Farragut baseball powerhouse from mentor after leading rival Bearden to new state territory and 177 wins

It could surely stir up an already heated rivalry when the coach at the maroon school cleans out his “Dawghouse” and plants “Anchor” at the navy blue school.

But Matt Buckner wants to make something perfectly clear to Bulldog Nation despite his move from Bearden to assume baseball head coaching duties at archrival and Class AAA power Farragut.

“Bearden's been nothing short of awesome for the six years that I’ve been there,” said Buckner, leading BHS to its first-ever Class AAA state tournament appearance while compiling a 177-72 six-year record.

The new FHS skipper added he's actually been at BHS eight years because, “I coached at Farragut [assistant under former head coach and Buckner mentor Tommy Pharr] while I was teaching at Bearden.

“I've been at Bearden High School pretty much a majority of my adult life, since I was 23 years old. I love Bearden and I think Bearden's an excellent place. ... I've had some great relationships.

“It was a tough decision.”

But now Buckner, 31, takes over a program where he assisted under Pharr in 2002 and 2003 and was part of FHS's first state title in the Pharr era. Four more state crowns have followed, including the past two.

“Most people consider Farragut the premier program in the state of Tennessee ... a tradition of excellence,” Buckner said. “It's just one of those things, when you get that opportunity, I don't think that opportunity's going to come around that often. For me, I felt like it was a thing I needed to do.”

Buckner, who said he was first contacted “around two weeks” before the hiring became official Friday, July 10, added he accepted FHS principal Michael Reynolds' offer Wednesday, July 8.

“For me and my family, I think it was the right decision,” he said. “For one thing, I live in the back side of Farragut. That had something to do with it. I think Farragut's a neat community.”

As for the pressure to carry on Farragut's success under Pharr, Buckner said, “If anything, I'm prepared to handle that. You hear people say, ‘it's tough to follow a guy like that.’ But it won't be anything for me to call Tommy and ask him a question. I'll always have him there. He definitely is my mentor. Most of the stuff I've learned, I've learned through him.”

Though respecting Pharr's accomplishments at FHS, Buckner added, “I don't want to try to be Tommy Pharr. I think Tommy Pharr's the best high school baseball coach around. I don't think there's anybody even close to him. He's tremendous.”

However, “I've definitely learned a ton more since I've been on my own,” Buckner said. “I feel like I'm still learning every day. The style of baseball that he plays and I play, I think they're pretty similar. I may be a little louder on the field than he is.”

Pharr also coached Buckner, a standout high school catcher in the mid-1990s, at Monterey in Middle Tennessee.

Because CAK, Pharr’s new school, and Farragut won't compete for regular season district or any post-season honors, Buckner said, “I'm glad about that. ... I love to compete, but it's tough when it's a friend.”

Reynolds said Buckner possesses “strong character traits, a strong work ethic, someone that is a teacher and someone that strives for excellence. And somebody that's going to fit in and be part of our community and be part of our family for a long time to come.”

About consulting Pharr, Reynolds said, “When you have someone like Tommy you're going to pick their brain. Tommy and other people.”

Reynolds, who said the single most important quality for a coach was someone who will “take care of the kids,” also said he consulted with Dwayne Simmons, FHS athletics director, — “but the final decision has to rest on my shoulders.”

As for Buckner’s close relationship with Pharr, Reynolds said, “That was a plus that he knows us and we knew him. And you look how disciplined his team was, and the organization and how he handled himself.”

Especially important, Reynolds added, was “the relationship he had with his kids and his parents, too. And the reputation that you have, too.”

Philip Pfeifer, FHS All-state rising junior pitcher, said of Buckner, “He's been at Farragut before, so he knows what it takes to compete at the same level we've been to. He also knows what it takes to go to state, Bearden made it last year. I'm really thrilled to have him as a coach.

“I took coach Buckner's camps before I went to Farragut,” Pfeifer added. “He was really a good guy. A players’ coach. A good coach in-general. I like him a lot.”

Buckner said, “At the end of the day if [his efforts are] not good enough, I'm still going to sleep O-K at night ’cause I'm going to know I worked hard at it.”

Buckner's six-year record also included the District 4-AAA Tournament championship in 2006 while reaching Region 2-AAA level three times. Assessing his six years at BHS, Buckner said, “I think we ran a pretty good program, we've won a lot of ballgames.”

Along with Buckner's Bulldogs sweeping Pharr's eventual 2006 state championship team in four games (two regular season, two post-season), Bearden and Buckner won twice in 2009 against the eventual Class AAA champion Admirals. “We won our fair share,” Buckner said.

At BHS, “We had a highly involved community, highly involved booster club,” Buckner said. “We've had a lot of good players, also. We've had tremendous success at Bearden.

“I think I've got 15 players currently playing college.”

As for any bitter feelings that might exist in Bulldog Nation, Buckner said, “The people who know me and the people who love me and are my friends at Bearden that I came close to, they understand.

“I've heard from tons of ’em, and it's ‘congratulations.’ Maybe poking a little fun, but that's part of the process, and that's O-K. It's definitely a factor, I mean you can't sit here and say it's not a part of your thinking,” he added.

Meeting with his former BHS players Wednesday night, July 8, Buckner said, “There's a lot of kids I hate leaving. A lot of emotions go with that. ... Some of them don't understand that. ... But 16-year-olds rub stuff off pretty quickly.”

Also, “I met with the principal [John Bartlett] and the athletics director [Scott Witt, July 8]," Buckner said. “They'll hire a good person at Bearden and they'll be fine.”

In the classroom at FHS, Buckner said, “I'm now going to be a drivers education and [physical education] teacher. That was a change that I wanted to make.”

Buckner said Knox County Human Resources department approved his move to FHS July 10.

Buckner and wife, Robin, have one son, Lukas, 3.


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