In 1978, Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips gave Don Shula about the best compliment a football coach can receive.
“He can take his’n and beat your’n and take your’n and beat his’n,” Phillips said of the legendary Miami Dolphins’ coach.
In other words, he can take his players and beat yours and take your players and beat his. The closest thing to Shula in the pantheon of Richmond Academy football is Frank Inman, the state championship-winning coach from the 1950s.
While I’m not ready to put current Richmond Academy coach Lyle Burns in the same sentence as Inman, it’s an important concept to understand when looking into what he’s accomplishing at 910 Russell St.
Richmond Academy (4-1) has already matched its win total from a year ago and is off to its second-best start of Burns’ tenure. The Musketeers have wins over Evans and Lakeside and added a region win over Harlem Friday, a game that was really a microcosm of their season.
Burns said after the 20-10 victory that his team still needs to become more physical on both lines of scrimmage and cut down on the pre-snap penalties. He was quick to note future opponents Thomson and Burke County, knowing that their path to a region title won’t get any easier.
“We had a few administrative penalties before the ball was snapped, which was discouraging,” he said after the win. “Those that happen during the play happen, but you’ve got to eliminate offsides, false starts and those things. Those were disappointing, but hopefully we can get those cleaned up.”
The lack of physicality on the line contributed heavily in the 33-21 loss to Vidalia.
Despite the mistakes, Richmond Academy is beating teams that, frankly, appear to be better. They’re beating teams that are bigger, stronger and faster. They forced a run-first Evans team into three interceptions in a 17-16 win. They held an explosive Harlem rushing attack to one touchdown.
They’re going against bigger offensive and defensive lines and faster skill players and winning. They’re doing so with a sophomore quarterback that’s still getting settled in under the Friday night lights.
The short answer is coaching. Offensive coordinator Brian Lewis is spreading opposing defenses out and using option plays to take the attention off Jack Murphy, which allows playmakers like Chris Murray and Kellen McDuffie to get into open space. The icing on the cake is running back Rashad Williams, whose ability to run between the tackles takes another level of pressure off Murphy.
While a bit undersized, the Richmond defense is arguably one of the most fundamentally sound units in the area. The use of positioning has been able to trump speed on the perimeter and they don’t shoot themselves in the foot by missing tackles. They always seem to be around the football, allowing them to take advantage of offensive miscues.
Now, time will tell if this assessment will hold up. The Musketeers host Thomson (4-1) this week in what will be their biggest test so far this season. We’ll find out if Richmond is here to stay or how much more they have to grow to contend for a region title.