INDIAN TRAIL – Sun Valley High School announced Drew Hackett as its fifth coach since 1994 last week.
Hackett has a history of turning programs around with brief stops at West Charlotte (2014), Bishop McGuiness (2017-18) and most recently, CATA (5-5 on the JV level) while also serving as an assistant at Hough (2015-16) and at West Charlotte before being named the interim.
Hackett owns a career 19-20 coaching record, but he’s ready to turn around Sun Valley after the Spartans were just 2-9 last year.
Indian Trail Weekly sat down with Hackett to discuss his coaching past, his vision for Sun Valley and how he plans to turn the program back in the right direction.
ITW: Tell me a little bit about your coaching career. Where did you get your start and what have you picked up along the way?
Drew Hackett: I started at West Charlotte. 2013 was my first year there, and I was retained the next year when Mo Collins started. When he got sick, they named me the interim. I took that program through the last five games of the season.
After that, I went to Hough under Miles Aldridge and stayed there for two years and then the opportunity at Bishop opened. I took that. They graduated their entire offense, without a single offensive returner. They had some sophomores who had played defense, but not much else. We started 0-4 and went 4-7 that year. They’d never played varsity football before. We came back from 20 points twice. The following year, we went 8-5 and got their first-ever playoff win.
Then, this opportunity came open. I met with the admin, I met with Jay (Niessner) and I liked the atmosphere and the idea of building something from scratch. We went 5-5 on a JV schedule. They hadn’t won since August 2016.
ITW: What side of the ball is your football background mostly come from?
DH: My background is primarily on the offensive side, but learning under Miles, you have to know all three phases.
I kind of opened that up, and when I came here, I didn’t name a coordinator for the JV season, because I called the whole game. I wanted to put myself in position to have an overwhelming amount of football with me calling the whole game. Doing that helped broaden my horizons on the defensive front so I now know both sides of the ball and feel confident. Most coordinators call just one side of the ball most of their careers, so it’s something I wanted to do.
ITW: What impressed you with Sun Valley?
DH: I liked the different demographics that they draw from. That seven-mile area is just tremendous.
Having a disciplined football team is very possible, so is having a constant plan of attack and being open and not narrow-minded.
There are currently two D-1 guys with offers, so it’s a place where we can work to our strengths. And when those guys graduate, it won’t be how we replace them, but we’ll already have the JV kids working to do that.
It’s like reloading instead of re-trying to do everything.
ITW: Sun Valley struggled last year, but has tons of talent. I’m sure you’ve had a chance to review some tape. Why do you see as an outsider that they struggled?
DH: They were in every game, but were just a handful of plays away from winning games. I think they had a couple of bad breaks.
If you look at their games, and it happens to all of us, but if you have one or two bad plays right before half and if you open with one or two bad plays, you go from 14-7 at the half and now it’s 28-7 halfway through the third quarter and you’re wondering what happened.
I think it was that, just a couple of bad breaks, a couple missed opportunities, but you see the fight and the resilience in those kids because they were still going out there and trying to win. That’s a positive.
If we can eliminate a couple of bad breaks and a couple of mistakes, that opens it up for a successful year.
ITW: There’s tons of talent on the roster and no reason to win just two games. You have experience doing so, but how do you quickly turn this program around?
DH: I think the biggest thing is finding out what we’re good at.
You can do that a lot of ways. You can do the Mike Leach philosophy where balance is the guys getting touches or it’s 50-50 run-pass. It’s about finding out what we do well and then executing it. Sometimes less is more. We’ll go in with a solid game plan and prepare the kids not only for the first quarter but for halftime adjustments.
When this is working, they’ll adjust so let’s look at it like how they may adjust and coming up with something for that. It’s really just always preparing for the next thing.
ITW: That conference has two state champions (Charlotte Catholic and Weddington) who have won it twice in a row now. What do you think about that league? There are truly no nights off.
DH: Correct. There are no off nights, and I think I’ve been exceptionally prepared for that conference coming from the I-Meck. It’s very similar. You’re going to play your conference to get to the state championship.
At Hough, we used to joke the first couple rounds of the playoffs were the football conference championships where you had the regular season champion and more often not, they weren’t the ones left standing in the playoffs.
It’s just a matter of iron sharpens iron. We work under the gauntlet of the schedule, but we’re going to have to play them anyway in the playoffs, so it’s better to know them and play them tough.
ITW: Sun Valley has had very few coaches over the past 20 years. Is this a place you see yourself staying at for a while?
DH: That’s the intention. My wife and I live in Stallings.
I grew up in Mint Hill, my grandparents still live in Mint Hill so this is home for me and we’re trying to make it our home, too. We bought a house, so for the foreseeable future this is home.
ITW: What about staff? Are you bringing some guys with you?
DH: It’s a constantly evolving process. I’m working on putting together the staff and trying to retain as many as possible.
I want good football guys around and try to leave the staff intact as much as possible for the kids so they can see the same faces around. We aren’t college or the pro level where the coach leaves and the whole staff changes. And I don’t control teaching positions.
I think there’s good pieces to the staff, but I want to bring in a couple of fresh eyes to it. It’s not an overhaul. It’s not a rebuild where we’re going to make minor changes to progress.
ITW: The team won just two games last year. How does their morale seem to be?
DH: It’s good. I’ve been over the past week and this morning.
They’re working hard, but it’s a grind. We’ll go from now until December basically, so it’s a grind in the weight room and in skills. We’ve had good numbers and they’ve been working hard, so they seem to take it in stride.
ITW: What is the biggest thing you’re excited for about this job?
DH: To have administrative support going into it and more resources going into it than I’m used to having.
We have 50-60 guys in the weight room where my past couple of stops I haven’t had those resources and the administrative backing, so I’m very excited about being in the community and getting into the resources and untapped potential.