By Joshua Huff, sports editor
PINSON — The man partially responsible for one of the Baltimore Ravens’ four losses during their Super Bowl XXXV run will now implement his more than a decade’s worth of coaching and playing experience into his new role as the head coach of a Pinson Valley football team that has won two of the past three Class 6A state titles.
Sam Shade, a 1992 University of Alabama national champion, was a 27-year-old safety at Washington in 2000 when the Redskins became one of just four teams to defeat the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens during the regular season. Throughout his illustrious NFL career, Shade appeared in 117 games for both Cincinnati (1995-98) and the Redskins (1999-02). In that time, Shade led the Redskins in tackles twice. He did not miss a game between 1997 and 2001. During that span, he recorded 370 solo tackles.
He retired following the 2002 season.
Eighteen years later, Shade, who looks as if he could still suit up and bang with the best of them, remains entrenched within the world of football. Though the news leaked weeks ago, Shade was officially announced on Thursday as the successor to former head coach Patrick Nix, who departed in January for the head coach position at Central-Phenix City High School.
Nix leaves behind a program well versed in the intricacies of success.
In his three seasons at the helm of Pinson Valley, Nix led the Indians to back-to-back Class 6A state championships in 2017 and 2018 and the semifinals this past season. He concluded his tenure with the Indians with a 38-4 record.
Though traces of Nix linger within the program despite his departure, the team now belongs to Shade.
And Shade is no slouch when it comes to coaching.
Other than a bit of turbulence that goes along with being associated with the Cleveland Browns, Shade has over 14 years of coaching experience at the college and high school levels with stops as a volunteer coach at Briarwood Christian School, as a secondary coach, a special teams and a defensive pass game coordinator at Samford and as a defensive backs coach at Georgia State.
Throughout those stops, Shade has accumulated a wealth of experience. Between his playing days and coaching career, the Birmingham-area native has toed the line with some of the most influential people to grace the sidelines of the gridiron: Dick LeBeau, Mike Nolan, Ray Rhodes, Marvin Lewis, legendary Wenonah High School football coach Ronald Cheatham, among others.
For many, some of those names will ring a bell as a laundry list of the most decorated defensive minds that the sport has seen.
LeBeau had spent over 45 years as a coach entrenched in the defensive side of the ball; Nolan, who is currently the Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator, has bounced around the NFL as either a defensive coordinator or position coach (minus his 2001 stint as receivers coach with the Baltimore Ravens); Rhodes spent 32 years coaching in the NFL as either a head coach or a coach on the defensive side of the ball; Lewis was the defensive mastermind of the Cincinnati Bengals for 15 years, and Cheatham won 150 games and led the Dragon’s to their first state championship game in 2016.
Despite his perceived familiarity with the defensive side of the ball, Shade prefers to be styled as a versatile coach who likes to dabble in every aspect of the game.
“I really won’t say that I’m a defensive guy,” Shade said. “Until I went to college, I was once an offensive guy. I played running back. I thought that’s what I was going to play in college, but Alabama needed me to play defense. That’s how I ended up playing defense. I’m also into special teams. I played some in college and in the NFL.”
That versatility will not only help a Pinson Valley defense that pitched three shutouts, limited four opponents to seven points or less and held 10 opponents to less than 14 points per game in 2019, but it will help an offense in search of a new starting quarterback to help guide a unit loaded with talent.
So, just who will take snaps from behind center for the Indians come this Fall after the departures of starter Barry White and backup Caleb Nix?
According to Shade, it could be any number of people.
“We’ve got some guys in the program,” Shade said. “We got a guy coming from basketball that played when he was younger. We’ve also got another kid who was here last year, but he wasn’t listed on the depth chart as a ninth grader. We’ve also got some guys in the feeder program that will be coming up that will be ninth graders. We’ll get to work with some of those guys in Spring practice.”
However the process works out, Pinson Valley is now in the hands of man who is quite familiar with the program. As a college coach for nine years, Shade spent quite a bit of time recruiting at Pinson Valley. As such, he was able to build relationships with counselors, the principal and even the resource officer at the school.
It was Shade’s relationship with Pinson Valley principal Michael Turner that proved to be the catalyst for the college football national champion’s arrival to Pinson.
“If it was Friday night, I wouldn’t expect to talk to the head coach much,” Shade said. “So, Mr. Turner would always be at the games. We’d stand out there and talk a little bit. We kind of got to know each other. Basically, once he found out that I was looking to get back into high school coaching, he pretty much gave me call.”
Shade has now been working in his capacity as head coach since this this past week. In his office tucked away at the end of the Pinson Valley field house, the newest member of the football program adjusts to life as the newly minted physical education teacher and as the head coach of one of the most dominant teams in Class 6A.
— Pinson Valley Football (@Pinson_Football) February 27, 2020
That dominance is what Shade hopes to continue. The former Wenonah football star is fully aware of the mark that Nix left on the program, and instead of a wholesale change, Shade wants to embrace what good Nix did and add to it with his own vision. That vision entails incorporating a whole host of coaching philosophies that Shade has picked up throughout his time in football.
From Junction Boy Gene Stalling’s focus on accountability to Marty Schottenheimer’s focus on showing out everyday, Shade can dive into a litany of philosophies that will help guide his path going forward.
“I played at Wenonah High School for a guy named Ron Cheatham,” Shade said. “Cheatham was at Wenonah for 28 years. If you stay somewhere for 28 years you’ve got to be doing something right … I was able to learn some things from him about hard work and discipline. I then went on to the University of Alabama and had an opportunity to play under Gene Stallings. You talk about a guy who is old school. He was one of the original Junction Boys. Accountability was his big deal. He held everybody accountable. From the players to the coaches. Everyday. That’s one of the things that I learned from him.”
Though Nix has packed up shop and headed east, he has left a program flush with talent and has imparted a sense of awareness among his former players of what is needed to once again ascend and summit the mountain that is Class 6A football in the state of Alabama. And behind years of experience, on and off the field, Shade is the man to now take the reins and guide the Indians back into the promise land.
With that, the torch has now been passed.
Once you finish reading this story, and you find yourself with a moment to spare, take some to welcome Shade and ask him what it was like tackling former Raven and Super Bowl champion Jamal Lewis.
Even better, ask him about tackling Jerome Bettis.