The Heflin native and standout football player, first at Cleburne County High School and then at the University of Alabama, lost his job – as did the entire defensive staff – at Idaho State University at the conclusion of the 2012 season. He spent six months looking for the right situation, one in which he would be comfortable both professionally and personally.
In late June, Bates joined the staff that new head football coach Ron Karcher was putting together at East Central Community College in Decatur, Mississippi. He will coach the defensive line and handle strength and conditioning.
“I think I’m around some great people and that’s what I prayed about whenever I was out of (coaching), during the time that I was looking for another job,” Bates said Friday.
“Todd’s background with the defensive line and strength and conditioning will be a great asset for our players,” Karcher said in an East Central news release announcing Bates’ hiring. “Most importantly, Todd is a great man who desires to build young men. I am very excited to have Todd Bates become a member of my staff.”
Bates is equally pleased with his new association with Karcher.
“He is a great guy. I did look up his career. … I really dug deep because it was very important to me that I got with the right type of people as well as great coaches,” he said.
East Central will be a significant rebuilding job. The Warriors have recorded just two wins per season in each of the last four years and were 4-4, 1-8, 3-5 and 4-5 from 2005 through 2008.
“I’m very excited about it. As a competitor you love challenges and this is a big challenge. I’m up to the task,” Bates said. “I’m planning on stepping up to the plate and swinging away, trying to help coach and do my job – making sure that what I bring to the table is 110 percent of my effort every day.”
Bates begins his new job on August 1 and there will be much to do in a short time. East Central’s season begins on August 29 at Itawamba Community College.
The new job and moving closer to home from Pocatello, Idaho, are changes for Bates. Unchanged is his commitment to his annual football skills camp in Heflin. Even while he was looking for work, Bates continued to plan for the seventh annual event. This year’s camp will be Saturday and, as always, there will be no charge to campers.
Bates said he began looking for a way to give back to his community as he finished his playing career and was moving into coaching.
“I had a dream of doing a football camp where I taught fundamentals and techniques and had it where kids could just show up and not have to pay a dime,” he recalled.
He knew some children couldn’t afford to pay to go to a camp where instructors were college coaches and high school coaches and former and current college players.
“I wanted to be able to provide something for them and give back to them and pour out our life experiences into them and give them a better chance to succeed later in life.”
Originally, Bates offered two camps, one for ages six through 13 and one for ages 14 and above, with each group getting two half days of instruction. When he went to work at Idaho State, the school’s NCAA compliance officer urged him to limit the camp to 13 and under to avoid possible NCAA rules violations.
The camp is limited to approximately 100 participants. Bates said anyone who has not already registered should call the Heflin Recreation Center at 256-463-5434 to see if space remains available.
Saturday’s activities begin with sign-in at 8 a.m. for those who have pre-registered. The skills instruction and drills start at 9 a.m. and continue until noon. From noon until 1 p.m., campers will eat lunch provided by Bates and hear speakers.
“My goal when a kid leaves my camp is not only that he was coached up on how to tackle correctly and has a smaller chance of having a concussion because he tackles with the right form but also he can set a goal and have a plan to get there,” Bates said.
Assisting Bates with the morning’s instructional program will be 22 coaches and former or current players. Another 15 people serve as support staff. Everyone volunteers his or her time. Bates calls the volunteers his foxhole guys, people he has learned he can depend on to be waiting for him to call and invite them back from one camp to the next.
“The guys that I have in my foxhole with me that I played with or that I coached, I know what they’re all about. I know what they have to offer these kids,” he said. “It’s something special.”
Bates said he and those helping him focus on seven words beginning with the letter ‘I’ – imagine, involve, invest, impress, impact, inspire and influence – in teaching the campers. While he was looking for another coaching position, Bates passed on non-coaching job offers because he felt he wouldn’t be happy doing something other than coaching.
“As a coach you sacrifice,” he said. “It’s all about somebody else and you having humility and being willing to take your experiences that you had as a player or as a coach and just pour into those kids and try to make them the best and give them the best opportunity to succeed after they leave you.”
Then he added, “The biggest accomplishment that a coach can have in my opinion is a player appreciating the things that he did for him so much he wants to spend his life doing the same. He wants to be a coach.”