VIDEO: Mike Turner Press Conference
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – For the first time in 38 years, a new head football coach will prowl the sidelines at Burke-Tarr Stadium when Carson-Newman and Pikeville (0-1) collide Thursday night at 7.
Mike Turner makes his head coaching debut for the Eagles after 35 seasons as a player, coach and coordinator with the program.
"I don't think there is enough area for the butterfly's at a zoo to cover," Turner said. "You're looking down the line at different responsibilities, I am blessed to have a great coaching staff, that's game prepared. They know what it is to be in these kind of games and to be ready for a season. We've got a middle to young football team that has game experience in some ways, but in some ways they are still in the growing up phase. As far as being the head coach it is a new adventure."
Turner takes over for the late Ken Sparks, who retired in November and passed away following a five-year battle with cancer in March. Sparks finished his career as the winningest coach in Division II history and fifth all-time on the wins list in all divisions.
Carson-Newman head coaches are 5-9-1 all-time in their coaching debuts. Sparks (1980), Johnny Wike (1974) and Bob Davis (1964) are the last Carson-Newman head coaches to start off their Eagle head coaching careers with a win.
The Eagles find themselves opening the season on a Thursday night after starting off 2016 on a Thursday afternoon.
Carson-Newman is 29-7-1 in season-opening games since 1980. The Eagles' 52-45 loss to Humboldt State on opening day in 2016 snapped a five-year winning streak on opening day.
The Thursday openers have typically been offensive affairs. Carson-Newman has averaged 50.6 points and 594.04 yards of total offense in its last five Thursday home openers.
The Eagles will hope that offense returns to form to start the season. Carson-Newman is coming off just its third non-winning season in the last 38 years. The last time the Eagles came off a non-winning year was 2012, C-N made it to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Playoffs that year before bowing out to Valdosta State. The only other time it has occurred was 1985 with a 5-5 year. The 1986 season saw C-N thunder to a 12-1 record and a national championship.
C-N's week one foe Pikeville marks the second time in three years that the Eagles have opened against a team from the NAIA ranks.
The Eagles last opened with the University of the Cumberlands (also a member of the Mid-South Conference with Pikeville) in 2015, which turned out to be a 59-56 thriller in favor of C-N.
In the revamped Mid-South Conference, Pikeville was picked to finish second in the brand-new Appalachian Division. Gone is the 13-team league from last season, in its place is a 20-team, three-division monster that creates the largest football conference at any level of collegiate play.
Carson-Newman has won two straight games against teams from the Mid-South, with 2015's win over the University of the Cumberlands and a 2009 win against Campbellsville 38-10. The Tigers were Pikeville's week one opponent and chalked up a 28-14 win over the Bears.
The Bears used multiple quarterbacks in the season-opener against Campbellsville. Sani Warren got the nod to start and got the bulk of the reps with a 13-for-29 effort for 181 yards. Bowen Smith went 6-for-14 through the air for 85 yards and a score.
"They are very similar in a lot of ways, they both throw the ball well, and they both can run with the football," Turner said. "They do a great job of getting the ball downhill in a hurry, with their zone reads. The quarterbacks do a great job with their follow play, so we've got our hands full. You pick out the best things and try to attack those things first."
Xondre Willis led the Pikeville backfield with a 10-carry, 78-yard effort. He took a 34-yard run to the house on the Tigers.
Meanwhile, Turner wants his Eagles to continue to look internally, and to continue to have heavy buy in to this year's theme of "Believe."
"I want the identity of this football team to be a believer," Turner said. "That they believe in themselves, their teammates, their coaches, and I think you grow as a football team. I've told them, that you hear a lot about chemistry, that's one way that may get you pretty far, but the key thing I want them to get to is believing in each other, caring for each other, and the key word right there is love. When we got a football team that cares enough to love each other, then we got a championship football team."
The Eagles and Bears kick off at 7 p.m. Thursday night. Coverage for the contest begins at 6 p.m. on the Eagle Sports Network with the AEC Tailgate Show on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville), Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.