(This is the second of a two-part feature and ranking of local high school head football coaches’ overall won-loss records. Webb School Coach David Meske ranks No. 1 with a 36-year record of 275 wins and 142 losses, including seven state championships.)
By Steve Williams
Seven of David Meske’s 275 wins during his 36 years as head football coach at Webb School have come in TSSAA state championship games.
But when asked to pick his favorite victory, it wasn’t a state title triumph.
“It’s probably when our team won the semifinal game in 1996 and we had a chance to go to a state championship game,” said Meske. “That was a dream of our coaches.
“Clark Wormsley was with me the whole time as the offensive coordinator until retiring in 2019. We worked well together and used to go and watch state championship games even if it was freezing outside. We just thought it would be a great opportunity if one time we had a chance to play in one of these.”
The Spartans seized that opportunity with a 28-13 win over Baxter’s Upperman High, which had rolled into that semifinal game after posting three straight shutouts and outscoring the opposition 102-0.
The win vaulted Webb into the Class 2A championship game – before schools had been split into public and private divisions – and on Friday night, Dec. 6, 1996, the Spartans pulled out a 27-20 win over Goodpasture at Vanderbilt University in what then was called the Clinic Bowl.
Meske said another favorite time was his first season (1985) being Webb’s head coach.
“We had a very, very young football team,” he recalled. “That year I learned a lot. You make mistakes and you learn from your mistakes and then you don’t want to repeat the mistakes.
“I had great kids that year. We only won three games, but I was proud of that team. They allowed a young coach to come in and work with them and they did everything we asked them to do. So that first year as head coach is a memory I will always have.”
Meske also noted most of his 1986 team was juniors and quickly turned things around for an 8-2 season. That included a 14-7 win over rival Knoxville Catholic, after losing to the Fighting Irish 30-0 the year before.
For the record, Meske has a 17-9 record against Catholic over the years. The two teams did not play each other from 1993 through 1996. The series also stopped after their 2014 meeting and hasn’t resumed since then.
Meske 1984 versus Meske 2021
What would you say is the difference in the Coach Meske of 1984 and the Coach Meske of 2021?
“Well, I would say I’m calmer,” laughed Meske. “And I would say the relationship that we have with our kids is by far most important.
“When I was 25 years old, our goal was to try to win football games. (But) the more you age and the more you’re around kids, the more you figure out – hey, it’s a process. You want to win, there’s no doubt about that. But you have to have the right process. You’ve got to put things in priority and make sure you’re doing it the right way.”
It took Meske 12 years to get Webb to the state finals and another 10 years to win a second state crown in 2006, but from 2009 through 2014, the Spartans celebrated state championships five out of six years.
Webb also has had three state runner-up teams under Meske – in 1997, 2005 and 2016.
Wearing many different hats
With his early assistant coaching days, thanks to his Whitewater High head coaches Jim Warren (football), Ron Bleck (wrestling) and Kay Bachmann (baseball) when he was going to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, it’s not surprising that Meske has coached other sports besides football at Webb School.
His career has included being the head wrestling coach, assistant baseball coach and head boys’ and girls’ track coach.
“The influences of all my high school coaches have influenced me into coaching,” said Meske. “When I was in college I had the opportunity to coach with all of them. Each of them was different and each of them brought something that I thought was important in coaching. They had different styles and that was great to see.”
Meske also became Webb School’s athletic director in 1995 and the school named its athletics stadium in his honor in 2015.
In addition to the Webb School in Knoxville, there also is The Webb School in Bell Buckle, Tenn., and The Webb Schools in Claremont, Calif., that include The Webb School of California for boys and the Vivian Webb School for girls. “And relatives started all the Webb schools,” said Meske.
“Mr. (Robert) Webb set up our athletic department in a positive way. We’re an academic school and academics are always going to be first at Webb School. We have outstanding athletic programs, but they have to fall within the mission of our school.”
A great woman behind a great man
David said his wife Lyn has been “a big influence” in the Meske family.
“She’s been supportive the whole time and there were some things I wasn’t able to do because I was coaching. I didn’t get as much of an opportunity to see my own kids play as I would have liked. But she understood that and took care of it and made sure that our kids were taken care of.”
Coach Meske also pointed out Lyn is a hard worker at Webb as an executive assistant to the school president.
“She’s been through the coaching part of it … and I got called to active duty in Desert Storm when she was pregnant with our first child. She’s taken on a lot of things, but it’s all worked. And I think it’s worked because of her.”
David and Lyn went to the same high school in Wisconsin, but she was younger. When David was going to college and coaching at the high school, she was a student there.
“I knew her name and actually coached her brother,” said David.
Lyn grew up on a dairy farm.
“Early in life she learned how to work hard,” said Coach Meske, adding she had to do chores before she went to school and after she got home and she also was an athlete in school.
The two met after David had started working at Webb School and went back home to Wisconsin on vacation. “Two months later we were engaged and a year later we were married,” said David.
“What’s unique is that she has two sisters and all three married coaches.”
How long do you hope to coach?
“It’s getting closer to the end, but I still have some good years left in me,” answered Meske. “Let’s just see how that works out.
“Later on in life, Lyn and I want to travel. We have an RV that we travel in and it has a fifth wheel we pull. We see ourselves traveling a lot.”
David and Lyn have two daughters, Devon and Peighton, and both of them graduated from Webb School and went on to be college athletes. Devon, the oldest, played soccer at American University and now is a physician assistant at Tennessee Orthopedic Clinic. Peighton ran cross country at Tennessee and was captain of the team her junior and senior years. She’s now working at KOC to go back to school.
“Devon married a wrestler (Blake Herrin) from American University and we were fortunate to hire him at Webb as our head wrestling coach,” added Meske. “So our family is right here and we look forward to someday even spending more time with our family.”