Dewayne Wells leans comfortably back into his office chair, props his feet up onto the desk and stares contemplatively at photographs of each of his varsity teams that adorn the walls of the coach’s office inside the Campbell County High School Football Field House.
Each photograph has a treasure trove of war stories to tell: of young men in pitched battle, of shared triumph and tragedy, of a brotherly bond not easily broken. The old ball coach can tell you all about their lives, which are linked forever with his own.
“There were some success stories of kids that had life-changing experiences as part of this football program,” said Wells, who spent 10 seasons at the helm of the Cougars until last Wednesday. That’s the day he was told by Sharon Ridenour, interim director of Campbell County Schools, that he will not be back next season as head coach.
Though initially upset by and given no reason for Ridenour’s decision, Wells has gathered himself and is moving on. He chooses to focus on the good that he and his assistant coaches have been able to accomplish during the past decade.
“God closes one door; He will open another,” said Wells, a devout Christian and family man.
“I was not looking to leave. My biggest concern, right now is my family. This is the kind of decision that doesn’t just affect me; it affects my wife and kids. I’d like to thank my wife for being there for me as a coach’s wife and supporting me in my endeavors.”
Wells, a former college head coach at Tusculum, coached high school football for three years before coming to LaFollette in 2001 to resurrect the football program at his alma mater. He ended up staying three times as long as any of his predecessors and led the Cougars to their first winning season in 2004 and three state playoff appearances.
Wells compiled a 29-74 won/loss record in 10 seasons at CCHS. However, some armchair quarterbacks had criticized him for going 3-7 and 1-9 in the two seasons since making back-to-back trips to the playoffs.
“There are people who want to second-guess my coaching philosophy, but I know what our players can or cannot do,” said Wells, the winningest coach in CCHS football history.
“My players know that I put my heart into them and into this program. When I was hired here, I knew it was going to be a challenge, having to teach the kids how to be competitive against the schedule we play.”
The Cougars won only two games during their first two seasons under Wells but set the stage for their first playoff team with an upset of Clinton in September 2003. Campbell County’s first and only winning season (7-4) came the following year when the Cougars pitched five shutouts on defense, boasted 1,000-yard rusher Chris Johnson, and played for a Big East Conference championship.
Campbell County suffered through 1-9 and 2-8 seasons before storming back with a pair of 5-5 teams that qualified for the playoffs. In all, the Cougars won a school-record 15 district or region games under Wells.
Most recently, Campbell County participated in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Football Camp, a team and character-building experience hosted each summer by Tennessee Tech University.
“One of the biggest blessings I’ve had was being able to be on the field with my own kids,” said Wells, whose twin sons starred on the ’07 and ’08 playoff teams.
“This community has also been very gracious. The people that contributed to this program, behind the scenes, are very unselfish. Our kids have the best of everything.”
Though Wells will remain as a business teacher at CCHS, he does want to continue to coach and lead young men.
“I just need to take a step back, reevaluate my goals and see what opportunities there might be for me in the future,” said Wells.
“This has been a very rewarding experience for me, as a coach, being able to change the culture here, as far as football, and molding it into a program.
“I think being a football coach is a ministry in itself. It’s about forming a relationship with your players and coaches and trying to help kids find direction in their lives and how to be successful, be committed, work hard and never quit. Coaching is equipping kids with the skills they’ll need in the game of life.
“I wouldn’t change my experience here. I feel blessed to have been a coach of the young men I’ve been involved with over these past 10 years.”