The search, which began quietly a year ago, was lurching into what many considered a small eternity.

Depending on who you asked, the question of who should next coach Goldsboro High School's varsity football troupe usually generated a hot-take that registered somewhere on the dial between boiling point and crass bewilderment.

"They need to go up-tempo," some pointedly suggested.

"Or get out of the way," others pontificated.

"The school has athletes, but they don't ever use them the right way. Nobody knows what they're doing," a few said.

Give or take a few choice words, such was the formed consensus around Cougar Nation a year ago, when it was mired in the aftermath of a winless campaign but before it settled the boo-bird chorus with a new lead man -- which, of course, turned out to be a familiar face.

And Elvin James, the 2017 News-Argus All-Area Coach of the Year, welcomed the discord. After all, he has traversed this road before, at a few different stations in life, and knows the address.

He's a relationships-kind-of-guy, as most great coaches are, but with a distinct qualifier -- interested parties need only deal in plain language.

The old ball coach runs his practices with the precision of a military install, and there isn't much talking beyond his voice or those of his assistants, who could easily qualify as a group five-star stand-ins.

So much for improvisation, one might say.

And if you're a good-timing type who is looking for a candy-coated conversation about your individual greatness, just know he really doesn't do that, either.

In the church of Elvin James, you receive a steady diet of one thing -- the whole truth, no frills.

"You can't put a mule in the Kentucky Derby and expect him to win," James said with a chuckle earlier this week. "He's got to be a special mule to compete with them... now, he might outwork them, but you're talking about running the quarter -- and you've got to have some thoroughbreds."

Armed with that notion, James and his staff quick-stepped through the summer after his hiring became official and in short order, pieced together an offensive concept that was powerful, simple and yes, steeped in one's ability to handle coaching.

"They've been open-minded," James said of his players' response to his style. "Because the thing is, I always tell them... what I'm telling you is what I would tell my son -- and I'm not going to lie to my son, so I'm not going to lie to you... but if you think I'm going to sugar-coat it, then you've got the wrong person."

By all accounts, James and his navy blue band performed ably this past season, setting up shop for most of the campaign in a power formation and running their way to an appearance in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 2A playoffs -- a suggestion that would have been laughable in June.

But like any leader worth a grain of salt, James knows the work is far from complete -- and is excited about what the Goldsboro High football program can give to the young men who are willing to participate in its rigors.

"When you leave here, it's still going to be a struggle," James said. "And if you can make it through the program... the heat, the cold, and sometimes we get on you... you can't take it personal. This is going to make you a stronger individual in the long run... If you always try to take shortcuts, then it's going to catch up with you."

Which he doesn't do either, by the way -- just in case anyone out there might be wondering.