DANVILLE — To Danville football coach Sam Harp, the journey has always been more exciting and satisfying than the destination, even when the destination is the rarefied air atop the 300-victory plateau.
Harp became only the sixth high school coach in state history to win 300 games when Danville beat Mason County last Friday. The 57-year-old coach enjoyed the moment, of course. His players doused him with Gatorade and cheered him in the locker room.
But what Harp cherishes most are the three decades it took him to get to No. 300, the dozens of assistants he's worked with, and the hundreds and hundreds of kids he's taught and motivated.
"Friday nights are just the icing on the cake," said Harp, who has 251 victories and seven state titles in 23 years at Danville.
"What I love most is the preparation, putting everything together ... the chess match part of football.
"But most important are the relationships with the players and assistant coaches. It's more about that than it is about the wins."
Harp is more than a football coach. He's a football guy. He lives and breathes the game. It's his livelihood and his hobby.
"Football is in my blood," Harp said.
He has an NFL ringtone on his cell phone.
When he's relaxing on his houseboat on Lake Cumberland, he passes the time by reading football books. This summer he finished one by Alabama Coach Nick Saban. and is now into a page-turner by Lou Holtz.
He's a college and pro football fan.
During the off-season he attends football clinics and visits college campuses to find new ideas. "I don't care how long you've been in this business, you can always learn something new," he said.
Harp, a Franklin County native, got his first head coaching job at Calloway County, a program he built from the ground up.
From there he went to Anderson County. The Bearcats never had any real success until he arrived, but soon thereafter posted a 10-0 regular season.
Mark Peach, who was a sophomore lineman on that undefeated team and is now the coach at Anderson County, said Harp's work ethic was inspirational then and now.
"His dedication to preparation is still legendary here," Peach said. "What he did at Anderson County was pretty magical."
Peach said Harp's "smooth baritone" voice and matter-of-fact approach "made you believe you could achieve."
Harp went to Danville in 1988, figuring it would be a steppingstone to bigger things.
"But I realized pretty quick this was a special place," he said. "I realized it's not always about moving on to the next job, the bigger job, or the higher-paying job.
"It's about fulfillment and doing what you want to do as coach. I felt I could do that here. The administration put it in my hands and said, 'It's your program, and we'll do all we can to support you.' They've done that."
Harp has not only kept the Admirals' tradition alive, he's taken it to another level by winning state championships in 1989, 1991, 1992, 1994, 2000, 2001 and 2003.
How much longer will he coach?
Probably for several more years. His health is good; his enthusiasm is robust, and he has never considered football a grind, not even last year when Danville went 5-7 — Harp's first losing season since he was at Calloway County in 1985.
"I love what I do," he said. "Right now I can't see myself waking up in the morning wondering what I'm going to do today. That's just not me."
He's a football guy with a football team with a journey to enjoy.