In the South, football is a way of life. But for the Ingram family, football is life.
For the last 39 years, Alan Ingram has inspired many to achieve greatness in football-crazy South Georgia, including his two sons, Robert and Ashley. Alan's reach goes far beyond his biological family and includes a generation of young men to whom he has been a coach, mentor, role model and often, a father figure.
The landscape of high school football in Georgia does not lend itself to suffering losing records for long, nor does it allow much longevity or stability for coaches who do not win.
What is most interesting about Alan and his two sons is their message: Football is a tool to teach life lessons—it's about family and doing what is right, far more than it is about winning or losing.
Alan is head coach at Seminole County High School in Southwest Georgia. Robert is head coach at Riverwood High School in suburban Atlanta. Ashley is an offensive line coach at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
Both Robert and Ashley were accomplished college players as well. Robert starred at NAIA Cumberland University in Tennessee, where he was a two-time Kodak All-American linebacker. Ashley was a four-year letterman at the University of North Alabama.
What makes these men unique is the consistency of their message, one that comes directly from the patriarch of the Ingram family and permeates down the line to the last man at each institution where an Ingram holds a post. The mixture of hard-nosed football, coming from hard work and preparation and old-school values makes for productive young men, period.
Attend a practice at any of their schools, and from the outside, it will look like any other football practice. Get up close, and you will see men driven to push their players beyond what any believe they are capable of. Get even closer, and you will see many young men interacting with the Ingrams not just as coaches, but as family.
Alan does not take sole credit for his personal success or that of his sons. The old adage that "behind every great man, there is a great woman" holds true for the Ingram family. Sue Ingram, Alan's wife and mother of the Ingram boys, shares in the family belief of winning the right way.
Outwardly, Sue is a sweet, nurturing woman who has embraced generations of players from her husband's and sons' teams. In getting to know Sue, one would realize that she has been a driving force in the development of her sons and the rock behind Alan as well.
Plenty of coaches' wives are merely along for the ride, but "Ms. Sue," as she is often called, can be as tough as nails when the need arises.
The dynamic that is most apparent in dealing with any of the Ingrams is that love for one another is the catalyst for all things good in life. Armed with that belief, their further mission to equip young men with the tools to succeed later in life is achieved in spades.
The name Alan Ingram is synonymous with winning in Georgia high school football. He first won as an assistant for Miller County, including several regional titles and state playoff appearances. He wins—and wins big—as the head coach at Seminole County, too.
Robert took on a rebuilding project at Riverwood four years ago, and while the first three seasons did not produce many more notches in the win column, his fourth season (2011) saw his team reach the .500 mark for the first time since 2001. All indications point to Riverwood turning the corner and competing for a regional title of its own in 2012.
Ashley is part of a staff at the Naval Academy that is accustomed to doing more with less. Navy's strict academic standards, along with the mandatory service commitment after graduation, have always limited its ability to recruit prototypical Division I football talent.
Still, Ashley and the Midshipmen have managed to not only be relevant in college football, but remain competitive, even with the big names in the game. Ask Notre Dame, South Carolina or any other perennial football power to assess their experience in playing Navy of late, and all will tell you that it's as tough a test as a team could face.
What the Ingram family's success proves is that even though the times may change, the way to develop winning football players and productive young men does not. "Coach the hell out of 'em, and love 'em like hell at the same time, now you're onto something!" says Alan.
Have no doubt, none of the Ingrams will be seen sitting around a camp fire, singing "Kumbaya" while eating cookies and drinking milk with their players. What you will see is the passion of a father, manifested in the actions of his sons and the successful lives of their charges.