When Trac Baughn moved to Florida a couple years ago, his sights were set on enjoying retirement.
He pictured himself fishing every day and visiting nearby family members on a regular basis.
But, it wasn’t long before he fantasized about stepping back on the gridiron again.
And that’s after three long decades of coaching high school and college football — mostly throughout Mississippi.
The coaching bug bit again in summer 2018 — when he accepted a position to become assistant coach/defensive coordinator for the Land O’ Lakes High School varsity football program.
“I thought I was just going to fish for a little while, and then it got to being late June and I said, ‘I don’t think I can do this.’ I about had enough fishing,” Baughn said of his foray back into coaching.
Fast-forward to 2020: Baughn is now the Gators new head football coach.
He replaces the man he spent the past two seasons working for — Chad Walker, who in January accepted a head football coach position at Cambridge Christian School, in Tampa.
Baughn was selected from among 40 applicants for the position.
About 15 of the applicants were interviewed, according to Land O’ Lakes athletic director Michael Frump.
Baughn’s decorated coaching background, plus recent time with the Gators, served him well.
During 32 years of coaching football, Baughn has molded NFL veterans. He’s rubbed shoulders with legendary SEC coaches in the Mississippi junior college ranks. And, he found notable success as head coach and defensive coordinator throughout the Mississippi preps scene.
His college coaching stops have included the following: tight ends coach at Division I FCS Austin Peay State University (Clarksville, Tennessee), running backs coach at Division II Delta State University, defensive assistant East Mississippi Community College, and defensive coordinator Holmes Community College (Goodman, Mississippi).
His high school experience, which all came in the Magnolia State, is varied, too. He coached at Cleveland Central High School, Meridian High School, Kosciusko High School, New Hope High School and Wayne County High School, respectively.
Baughn said his experience equates to “an awful lot of time dealing with kids and working with (football) schemes.”
He added, modestly: “I don’t know, 32 years of coaching experience, it’s all been valuable to me.”
His two seasons as Kosciusko’s head football coach may serve most relevant to the Gators program.
He guided that team to 10-3 marks in both 2015 and 2016, reaching the third round of Mississippi 4A playoffs both years. He was twice named “Area Coach of the Year” as those teams finished ranked in the Mississippi Associated Press 4A top 5.
Baughn feels his time as head coach at the Central Mississippi-based school can translate to his new undertaking at Land O’ Lakes.
He put it like this: “I thought that I had been successful as a head coach before, and I kind of know what it entails, and I felt like I might be able to help right the ship over time.
“We’ve got really good kids (at Land O’ Lakes), and just felt like they deserved somebody that that was willing to give their best shot,” the coach said.
Success starts with large senior classes, rosters
The past two seasons at Land O’ Lakes offer a glimpse of the highs and lows of the Land O’ Lakes football program.
The Gators went 7-3 in 2018, narrowly missing the playoffs. That was the school’s first winning campaign since 2013 — restoring some confidence in the historic program.
Perhaps just as important that year, the Gators finally supplanted crosstown foe Sunlake High in the annual “Butter Bowl” rivalry game — the first such victory in eight years.
The 2019 team, however, was another story. It finished the season with a 2-8 mark.
The only wins came against Freedom High and Zephyrhills Christian schools. And, most of the team’s losses were blowouts, with a 31-point loss, three 40-plus point losses and two 50-plus point losses, among others.
All told, the Gators were outscored 137-363.
As a member of the coaching staff both years, Baughn knows what went wrong in 2019.
The coach blamed a “much more difficult” schedule and an “extremely young” roster with few seniors. “It kind of created a situation where we had a bunch of young kids that were going to struggle a little bit. That’s just the way it went,” Baughn said.
While a tough schedule will remain in 2020, Baughn is on a mission to “get the numbers up” and recruit more athletes from inside the school’s hallways to join the football program.
He has a list of more than 65 athletes interested in playing football, and he’s still actively looking for more.
“We need kids to come out,” Baughn said. “You can’t have four or five or six seniors every year. You need to have some classes with 15 to 20 (seniors) in it.”
So, what’s in store for next season?
Baughn’s philosophy, in a nutshell, is predicated on running the football and being fundamentally sound on defense.
“We’re gonna be a lot more physical, a lot less finesse than we have been,” the coach said.
He plans to teach those principles through a mantra centered on “tough love.”
“When they’re out there, I’m going to demand they do their best, and I won’t put up with anything less than that,” Baughn said.
“We are going to hold their feet to the fire and make them do the right thing, and try to develop and instill some work ethic in them, not that they don’t have that already, but we’re going to demand a lot of them.”
‘Last Chance U’ ties
Interestingly, Baughn has several ties to the hit Netflix original documentary series, “Last Chance U,” which profiles junior college football programs and recruits.
Fans of the widely popular show are familiar with East Mississippi Community College (EMCC), profiled in seasons 1 and 2 of the show.
Long before EMCC became a household name and drew a cult following, Baughn was a defensive assistant there.
“I watched some of (Last Chance U), and I was like, ‘Hey, there’s our old house right there…,’” Baughn quipped.
Baughn has coached against EMCC head coach Buddy Stephens, a prominent figure in the series, throughout the Mississippi JUCO ranks.
Baughn pointed out he notched a win against Stephens when he was then-defensive coordinator at Holmes Community College and Stephens was then-offensive coordinator at Pearl River Community College.
Stephens, notorious for his firebrand demeanor, has gone on to win five NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) national championships at EMCC.
“He’s done a phenomenal job there,” Baughn said.
The new Land O’ Lakes coach also claims to have once hired and worked with Marcus Wood — another prominent Last Chance U regular as EMCC’s offensive coordinator.
Baughn said the show is “kind of neat, because you know all those people.”
At the same time, he feels some of the moments are sensationalized for entertainment’s sake.
“TV kind of makes things one-sided a little bit,” he said. “Some people say, ‘Is it really like that?’ and I say, ‘Well, sometimes it’s really like that, but not all the time.’”
- Ethan Forrester, quarterback
- Brett Gwinn, tight end
- Michael Lansford, running back/linebacker
- Isaac Tavo, offensive lineman
- Zavian Mckinnon, defensive lineman
- Nick Kleoppel, wide receiver
Worth noting about Ronald ‘Trac’ Baughn
- He has much of the assistant coaching staff in place, which includes offensive coordinator Spencer Van Meter (previous coach at Chamberlain and Jefferson high schools, respectively).
- Is seeking two more assistant coaches, including a defensive coordinator, though he didn’t rule out the possibility of handling those duties himself. “If we can find somebody that I feel good with running our defense, that I have confidence in, then I’ll go that route. If I can’t (find someone), I’ll do it myself,” he said.
- While coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) has halted offseason football workouts, Baughn has spent the downtime evaluating game film, scouting 2020 opponents, putting playbooks together and assigning at-home workouts to players, among other activities. Baughn acknowledged all the mandated coronavirus precautions “kind of set us back in the plan that we had moving forward, for sure” and “puts us a little further behind the eight-ball than we already were in regards to trying to get things going.”
- He’s coached at least “15 or 20” players who’ve gone on to play in the NFL, a list that includes two-time Super Bowl Champion running back Antwowain Smith.
- Has worked with prominent coaches including longtime (SEC) coaches Tom Goode, S.E. Sullins and Robert Henry.
Published April 08, 2020