There is an undeniable buzz surrounding the Providence High football practice fields this summer, and much of that excitement seems to be centered on first-year coach Justin Hardin. In fact, many believe the Panthers are gaining traction as a team that may be in store for a substantial turnaround this season.
Last season, the Panthers finished 5-6 overall and 4-3 in the Southwestern 4A conference. But a disappointing 42-7 loss to East Forsyth in the first round of the Class 4AA playoffs provided a bitter end to the their season.
After serving as the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach the past two seasons at South Pointe High (S.C.), Hardin was hired as the next Providence coach in April.
Hardin previously had been the head coach at Weddington High School for two seasons, where he inherited a Warriors team that went 0-11 in 2008 and promptly improved to 5-7 in 2009 and 9-4 the next year, including an 8-0 start. Prior to that, Hardin also was an assistant coach for Army and was the defensive coordinator at Charlotte Latin.
Hardin is part of an impressive football coaching lineage. He starred in high school at Kannapolis A.L. Brown under his father, current Providence Day coach Bruce, and helped lead the Wonders to the 1997 Class 3A state championship. Hardin later played quarterback at The Citadel, where he teamed with his brother, Blair, who coached Porter Ridge to the past two Class 4A state title games before leaving to take the head coaching position at Morgantown Freedom this season.
The South Charlotte Weekly recently caught up with Justin Hardin about his family coaching success and new gig with the Panthers.
Q: There seems to be an excitement amongst Providence players, staff and parents about the football program. Do you get a sense of that?
A: I hope so. It’s a great school with a great group of guys. I’m excited to be here, I really am.
Q: What was it in particular that made the Providence job the right fit for you?
A: I just felt like it’s a really good school. They’ve always been competitive and had really good players and I know what type of kids go to school here. Sports are important to them, athletics are important to them, and so are academics, so it’s good to have kids focused on
Q: You were the head coach at Weddington High School but left to take a coordinator job at South Pointe. What told you it was time to make that change?
A: I enjoyed Weddington. The administration was great, the support was great but there were some things that I wasn’t happy with off the field and needed to change.
Q: In your time away from being a head coach, did you always know that you wanted to get back into it?
A: Absolutely, especially at a school like Providence. It’s a good school and it’s a good place to be the head coach at, it really is, so that was a very big opportunity for me.
Q: Are you a different coach now than you were a couple of years ago?
A: You know, going to South Pointe was a great experience for me, I learned a lot. I think the best thing for me was to step away from being a head coach. I could kind of just focus on learning the offense and coaching a specific group. I think being an “X’s”’ and “O’s” coach has helped give me more confidence.
Q: You were a very good high school and college player. Would your style have fit with your coaching techniques?
A: Honestly I would love to play in my system, I really would. I wish we had this system when I was in high school, but that was a different time and a different place. It’s an exciting offense that we run, but yeah, absolutely, I think I would have been perfect for what we like to
Q: The Hardin name carries a strong meaning in Charlotte-area football. What does it mean to you to grow up in such a football-rich family?
A: I’m proud of the success my dad and my brother have had, I really am. They’ve done it the right way by motivating and having their teams work hard. I think (the Hardin name) is a good thing to have beside your name. I’m their biggest fan every
Q: I don’t know if this is the right word, but as a younger coach especially, is there pressure to live up to the expectations of your family’s football
A: Not really. I think we’re all a little different, but we certainly have the same morals about the way we do things. We all talk to each other and kind of lean on each other. I don’t feel any pressure and I know my brother and my dad want to help each other the best we can so that we’re all competitive.
Q: Coaches run their practices in a number of different ways. I saw part of yours. How would you describe your practices?
A: I want them to be up-tempo and very fast. We want to get our guys in game shape and I believe the only way to practice is to practice at a game tempo, so I think up-tempo and fast is a good description.
Q: Goals are obviously to win the state championship what are some of your other goals?
A: I want to compete for the conference title and get a home playoff game here at Providence. I want our football team to be known as a tough and well-coached football team – those are my goals. If you are a tough team, are coached well and have a simple plan, you can have some success playing football.