Derrick Vestal announced Dec. 9 he had accepted the head football coach position at Sequoyah High School in Monroe County.
Vestal served as offensive coordinator for Lenoir City High School for the past two seasons, but when he got the chance to be a head coach, he knew the opportunity was too good to pass up.
“I wanted to be a head coach for a few years now and there wasn’t many opportunities that I thought would fit my family and myself as well as the Sequoyah job would,” Vestal said.
LCHS junior offensive tackle Leo Gonzalez confirmed Vestal has always talked about his coaching ambitions.
“I know he’s going to do good things over there and I’m just happy for him, he got a job as head coach,” Gonzalez said. “All he ever talked about was wanting to be a head coach and now that his dream kind of came true I hope it turns out successful in Sequoyah for him.”
Vestal’s move came a month after LCHS dismissed former head football coach Jeff Cortez. While not the primary reason for his departure, Vestal acknowledged the change did have impact his decision.
“With all the uncertainties with what was going to happen, I thought this would be a good time if I was going to get into the head coaching world,” he said. “Because if they hire a guy that doesn’t really want me around that means I’m looking for a job anyways.”
Cortez said Vestal had all the attributes to be a good head coach.
“(He’s) passionate, he loves game days, he’ll be very organized, lots of good use of technology and his boys will be prepared,” Cortez said. “I’ve kind of known his journey and he’s been at multiple places, had multiple experiences and I think you know he had a taste a little bit of it there at McMinn Central when they were going through a coaching change and he got to do all the things that a coach would do in kind of wrapping up a season and the offseason, those kinds of things.”
Vestal has his work cut out. Sequoyah has not won a football game since 2019. Despite the challenge, he said he wants to build a program that can be an example to others.
“I really just want to build a program that people look at and they respect the program,” he said. “They see the program as something that other schools want to model their programs after, not only by the way they play but the way their players act, the way that we present ourselves out in the community and things like that.”
Gonzalez said he thinks Vestal will do well in his new role.
“I think he will do a great job because he brought a good culture to Lenoir City,” Gonzalez said. “He doesn’t give anybody special treatment and he just cares for all the players. Like after he was done, you know, yelling at you or something, getting on to you, he would come and be like ‘this is just for your own good because we can’t be messing up,’ so I think just the fact that he’s a very disciplined coach and wants things done right and he reassures that you guys aren’t on the wrong page. He always wants to be on a good side with you, he just takes it serious when it’s football.
“I think that’s what makes him such a good coach,” he added. “Just that he’s so focused on all the time and he just cares for people. I think that’s just a really good value to have.”
Vestal said he leaves LCHS with fond memories. He is particularly proud of the team’s wins during his time and said he had met many people he appreciated.
“The kids there are fantastic,” Vestal said. “They work hard. They’re good kids. They really, really want to win. The principal there, (Brandee) Hoglund, was fantastic to me. I really enjoyed working for her, she was always a huge advocate for sports. And my assistant coaches there that I worked with were great guys. I mean, I built friendships with a lot of those guys that will last a lifetime. Mike Zeller and Billy Wilhite are two of my best friends now, and then coach Cortez, I love that guy. And then with the other assistants on staff we maintain a relationship, we text, we talk and all that stuff. From all this, I don’t think anybody thinks it’s personal, it’s just a business decision.”
With the friendships, Vestal said he would happy to consider hiring any LCHS assistant coach should they no longer have a place in new head football coach Gary Dugger’s team. His backroom staff is still a work in process, but with the connections he has made throughout his career, he said he was confident of getting the assistants he would need.