The key to Meske’s success at Webb School
By Steve Williams
Over 37 years ago, David Meske left Wisconsin and came to Knoxville for graduate school and got a tip from one of his professors about a job opening at Webb School.
Meske got the job and 275 wins later, he by far ranks No. 1 in victories among local high school head football coaches.
His sparkling 275-142 record in 36 seasons, which includes seven state championships, also is one of the best in the state.
Meske, now 62, says the key to his success has been three things.
“First of all, it comes down to the kids that you have in your program,” said Meske last week. “I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of wonderful kids who work extremely hard and bought into our program and did a great job of representing Webb School football.
“And the next thing that it comes down to is the coaches that I have around me. They’ve all been great teachers. We’re not a group that screams and yells at kids, but we’re a group that approaches it by we’re going to teach these kids every second when we are at practice.
“And then the third is our parents. Our parents have trusted us. They’ve been positive throughout my whole time at Webb School as far as supporting our program. And when you put all that together, I think you can have a place that can have success.”
Meske said he was an “average” high school football player. He also wrestled and played baseball, and all three of the coaches he had in these sports influenced him positively in his coaching career.
Jim Warren, his high school head football coach at Whitewater, Wis., where David grew up, gave him the opportunity to get into coaching. While going to college, he worked and learned as an assistant coach.
“We were successful and he was a tremendous mentor to me and taught me a lot about how to be successful – things like paying attention to detail all the time and making sure your practices are run efficiently.
“He believed in me and gave me a chance. I started off on the right note. I worked with a person who was an outstanding man.”
Meske noted that he was the last person that “Mr. (Robert) Webb hired before he retired” as president of Webb School. “I was extremely blessed to have the opportunity to get to know him a little bit.”
Acting on that tip from the professor, Meske actually started at Webb in the middle of the 1983-84 school year. Webb needed a head wrestling coach and Meske could coach wrestling.
“I also served in the military and a number of administrators at Webb had done that also and that was a plus for me too in getting the job.”
Meske also would soon have another mentor. He worked the 1984 football season as an assistant coach under Ron Gratz, who had guided the Spartans to Knox County’s first-ever state championship in the classification era in 1981.
The following season, Gratz stepped down and Meske took over. “Fortunately I got to be the head football coach at Webb School at a young age (24 or 25 years old).”
Is the thrill of victory still the same?
“It is,” answered Meske. “When you first start off in coaching, it’s more about the winning.
“When you finally realize (differently), winning is not the driving force. Preparing to win is the driving force.
“But influencing these kids and hopefully having an impact on them that makes them a better person and allows them to go and make a difference in this world, you find out that’s the most important part. And if you make that the most important part, I think your chances for success are going to be better.”
You’ve even outlasted the Wing T
That statement brought out a hearty chuckle from Meske. “You know, football has changed,” he said. “And we’ve changed some the last couple of years by running the Wing T out of the shotgun and doing more shotgun stuff. But just like at the college level, people are changing and you have to change.
“We just had the right personnel to make the change,” Meske continued. “We have some very talented skill kids right now. And having Rusty Bradley available was a plus for us. I just thought it was a good match. Again, we’re trying to put our kids in the best position to be successful.”
Bradley is a former coach at two of Webb’s district rivals – CAK and Grace Christian – who is known for his passing attack.
“I’m learning a lot from Rusty and I hope he is learning a lot from me,” said Meske.
Meske once got a tip from a professor. Surely Rusty will pick up a tip or two from a coach that’s nearing 300 wins.
Next week: Part 2 – David Meske’s first season, favorite victory, family and future plans.