Roger Perry: Dedicated to faith, family, football
Roger Perry's first game as Mt. Juliet's coach in 2006 was a loss to Wilson Central. Walking off the field, he gave me a few terse comments on the contest. He obviously wasn't happy.
Returning to Mt. Juliet a few days later for me weekly interview previewing that week's game, he immediately apologized for the previous Friday, which hadn't bothered me a bit.
"You saw the real me," he quipped.
I suspect there are two Roger Perrys. One is the family man who worships God and treats others with respect.
The other is the competitive Roger Perry who is locked in on football under Friday Night Lights.
Scrappy and competitive, he is the product of small-town football in Westmoreland, which seems to have invented the wing-T offense - and former Cumberland coach Herschel Moore never even coached there. It seems every coach Westmoreland has ever had runs the system.
He is also old-school in his philosophy, which is built around tough love and discipline.
Perry is a coaches' coach with a strong view of the way football should be played and coached. He doesn't believe in running up the score. I once saw him yell across the field at an opposing coach who he believed was doing just that.
But if his philosophy is old fashioned, he has updated some of his methods. When he calls wing-T plays, he uses the old staples of the fullback dive, the reverse and the buck sweep.
But when he wanted to bring Mike Duncan with him to Mt. Juliet as offensive coordinator in 2006, Duncan, who spent a total of 21 seasons on Perry's staff before becoming MJHS' athletic director a couple of years ago, wanted to call his own plays with his own wrinkles to them. Perry agreed.
Using the wing-T as the base, Duncan added 21st-century spread formations. Quarterback Reed Gurchiek and receiver Vaughn Cornelia made a spectacular pass-catch duo during their time in the Black and Old Gold. When Duncan left the staff and Perry took over the play calling for a season, the wing-T looked more like the old-fashioned version.
Something else Perry is very modern on is the use of weights. It's possible, if not probable, he's had his teams lift since his days at Westmoreland in the 1980s. But football players didn't hoist the barbells in the old days to the extent they do today.
He established an annual winter lift-a-thon to Mt. Juliet as a fundraiser and invited other district teams, including Lebanon and Wilson Central, as a way to promote competition during the offseason.
I didn't know Perry when he was in his 20s or 30s. But I would find it hard to believe he has mellowed at age 57; and no one has suggested to me that he has.
His son, Trey, is a chip off the old block. He played at Tennessee Tech, where former Wilson Central and Cumberland coach Dewayne Alexander was an assistant. Alexander called Trey a scrappy player. He is certainly that as a coach.
Their methods work. No playoff appearances in the five previous seasons when they arrived at Mt. Juliet in 2006, the Golden Bears haven't missed since. The program has been one of the top four in Class 6A the past couple of seasons. No Golden Bear football team had ever had an undefeated regular season until Perry's did it in 2011.
One of his offensive linemen worked at this newspaper as a summer intern a few years ago. He did running, lifting and other football conditioning work in the mornings and came to the paper in the evenings. He was one of the best interns I've ever had.
Now, Perry is in Baptist Hospital in Nashville following five-bypass surgery on Thursday. The operation went well, said Trey, noting his father asked the doctor on the eve of the procedure how soon could he return to coaching as an observer.
I suspect the recovery process will be a lengthy one. I don't know how much thought has been given to next month's spring practice or to the season this fall. His health must come first.
But if he is willing and able, I expect him to be back on the sideline sooner or later. I can't envision Roger Perry without football. And football needs men like Roger Perry with the energy and experience to teach players not just about the game, but about life.