It was almost 7:30 Tuesday night when N.C. Central football coach Jerry Mack entered the stadium and walked onto the field.
Some players were stretching. Others talked amongst themselves.
Mack walked over to the opposite sideline and motioned to one of the managers.
“Start the music,” he said.
“I Don’t Love Her” by Gucci Mane played over loud speakers. And with that, practice began, the sounds contradicting the quiet coach.
Mack, 35, has flown under the radar since he was hired, surprising many when, as a first-year coach, he led Central to a share of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title. N.C. Central finished 7-5, its best record since jumping to Division-I in 2011.
Mack is aiming higher. The winner of the conference will play in a bowl game this year against the Southwestern Athletic Conference champion.
‘Be careful for what you wish for’
Mack, a husband and father of three young children, grew up in a predominately black neighborhood in South Memphis. He played for one of the top football programs in the state.
Mack was raised in a supportive household, by his mother and father. He has one younger sister.
The three, along with his wife and children, have supported him at his games.
“We’re a very tight-knit family,” Mack said. “We support one another in all endeavors. A lot of my background, a lot of my upbringing, I think I have a strong foundation because of them.”
Having the support system and learning from them, he said, has helped throughout his grinding journey to becoming a coach. He instills that same “work for it” mentality in his players.
“At the end of the day, the only option is just to do it the right way and to work hard,” Mack said. “Because if you do that, it will overcome everything and you’ll always be able to achieve what you want.”
Mack preaches sacrifice, passion and vision to his players and staff.
He remembers when he got the opportunity to coach in his hometown, as the receivers coach for the Memphis Tigers, an FBS school. After a successful stint as offensive coordinator at Arkansas Pine-Bluff, he left to follow a dream.
“And we got fired after one year,” Mack said.
Memphis finished 2011 with a 2-9 record.
“It just showed me to just be grateful for whatever the blessings you get in life,” Mack said. “I was doing a great job at Pine-Bluff. I was in a great situation. We were on the cusp of becoming really good and a year later they won the black college national championship off the kids I help recruit on that staff.
“It taught me to be careful for what you wish for.”
On the field, Mack wants to be physical, play fast and have energy. The Eagles return 15 starters on offense and defense and a few other players who have played key roles.
Senior running back Idreis Augustus said there’s no reason his team should not win the conference again.
“I definitely think we’re better than last year,” he said. “We have a lot more weapons on offense and defense is flying around the ball like crazy.”
He attributes that to his coach.
“Coach Mack does what has to be done for us to progress and be good,” Augustus said. “He makes sure everything is done in practice so when we go out in the game, everything flies smoothly.”
Athletic Director Ingrid Wicker-McCree described Mack’s accomplishments in his first year as “phenomenal.”
“He came in and had a plan and had a vision for what he wanted to do and he executed it very well,” she said.
McCree said the coach exudes energy and has the ability to empower his players, similar to his counterpart in basketball, coach LeVelle Moton.
“My expectations are that they will continue to win as is with all of our sports,” McCree said.
Mack is confident the program is coming into its own.
Mack said the difference between this year’s team and last year’s team will be the familiarity with the system, and his growth as a head coach.
“Everybody understands the culture and everybody understands one another better,” Mack said. “We’re farther along as a program schematically, and we’re also understanding how to go to class, do study hall, and learning how to do stuff off the field. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to have hiccups here and there, but I think for the most part our program is heading in the right direction.”