Local Sports

April 13, 2012

Few apply for Southeast coaching job

DALTON — Either some coaches in the state know something others don’t, or the job of Southeast Whitfield High School head football coach is not one of the most appealing openings in Georgia.

Only 17 people applied for the position, vacant since mid-March, according to a list provided to The Daily Citizen by Whitfield County Schools after the newspaper filed an open records request with Southeast Principal Karey Williams. By contrast, the recent opening for the same job at North Murray — which hired Ringgold High athletic director and football assistant coach David Gann — drew 77 applicants from across the state and the Southeast. Jackson County, which has had three winning seasons in its 31-year history, had 50 applicants.

Williams, who took over as principal in January after previously serving as an assistant principal at Northwest Whitfield, is expected to make a hiring recommendation to the Whitfield Board of Education on Monday at its regularly scheduled meeting.

In a March 12 meeting that included Whitfield County Schools Superintendent Danny Hayes, Williams gave football coach David Crane the option of resigning or being fired. Two days later, she gave his wife, girls basketball coach Elizabeth Crane, the same choice. Elizabeth Crane subsequently resigned her post, but David Crane did not.

Williams is expected to take his name before the board to have him relieved of his coaching duties on Monday.

Messages left for Williams at the school on Friday afternoon and voicemails left on her cellphone Friday evening were not returned. Calls to Southeast athletic director Scott Ramsey were not returned.

Two sources inside Whitfield County Schools, who spoke on condition of anonymity, indicate the leading candidate for the position is current Valley Point Middle School football coach and athletic director Sean Gray. Gray, who was also the Ringgold High football coach from 2003-06, has led the Green Waves to three straight eighth-grade Whitfield County Middle School Athletic League titles.

If Gray is named the new football coach, he would be the second high school football coach from within the school system in the past two years. Last year, Northwest assistant Josh Robinson was promoted to head coach when Mike Falleur left to take the head coach and athletic director position in Villa Rica.

“If you are asking me if I applied for the Southeast job, yes I did,” Gray said when reached on Friday. “Other than that, I don’t know what is going to happen next.”

In an effort to learn more about the decision to fire the Cranes, The Daily Citizen made an open records request for all digital communications between Williams and Hayes since she became principal in January.

In an email from Valley Point Principal Robyn Baggett to Williams and Hayes on February 17, Baggett shared concerns about the eighth-grade class continuing on to Southeast. In it, Baggett said she met with unnamed parents who were going to send their child to Calhoun and cited the Southeast sports program as part of the decision.

“They are not going only due to sports — that is only one factor in their decision,” Baggett wrote in the email. “(The parents) named at least three other students who are making decisions to go elsewhere next year. I know four is not a lot but these are students we need to be keeping. Guys, I don’t think we have time to sit back and wait and see what is going to happen next. I don’t know the answers but I think there needs to be a conversation. There is a GREAT deal of unrest in the community.”

By March 1, Williams had made her decision to make changes within the athletic department, requesting a meeting with Hayes to discuss, “some of the coaching position changes we have previously discussed.”

After Williams asked for Crane’s resignation and after parents started to complain, she sent Hayes an email in which she wondered about trouble from Southeast parents.

“I do worry a little that David could stir up his supporters these next few weeks and make this even more difficult,” Williams wrote to Hayes on March 14. “Anyway, I wish I could speed up the next two weeks. : - )”

Two weeks is the amount of time the position was posted on the Whitfield County website.

Other applicants for the football job were Mark Arthur, Jonathan Beverly, Joseph Cadle, Nathan Dawson, B.J. Dickson, William Drennan, Patrick Loveless, Rick Mazza, Northwest assistant Jim McGrew, former Pike County coach John McMillan, former Savannah coach Al Pelligrino, Turner County assistant Jon Rechtorovic, Billy Smith, former Whitwell (Tenn.) coach Daniel Tierney, Joshua Wallace and Ringgold assistant coach Nathan Wehunt.

Arthur, Drennan, McGrew, McMillan, Pellegrino, Rechtorovic, Tierney, Wallace and Wehunt also applied for the North Murray position. Five of the applicants — Beverly, Loveless, Mazza, Smith, Tierney and Wallace — were confirmed from out of state through Internet searches. The list provided by Whitfield County Schools was only a list of names with no other identifying details.

Gray’s presence could be a reason that so few applicants even registered for the position. Sam Barrs, former president of the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association and the retiring head coach and athletic director at Bleckley County, said if word has filtered through coaching circles that the position is filled before it is even opened, there is no need to apply.

“It could be a situation where everyone knows that the job has been promised to someone else,” said Barrs, who is retiring this season after 24 seasons as a head football coach. “There are times when that happens. A lot of people will say that I won’t apply if I already know the job is filled and they are just going through the motions. It could be a lot of things. It could be they are down in athletes. It could be money. It could be administration. It could be a hard region. Guys aren’t going to chase jobs where they can’t catch up.”

All of those things could be said about Southeast.

During Crane’s four seasons, the Raiders were 8-32, although his 5-5 mark in 2009 was the team’s best record since 1992. The Raiders haven’t had a winning season since 1986 — the same year Southeast last made the state playoffs. In the history of the school, which opened in 1975, the Raiders have a record of 111-259-1 for a .301 winning percentage.

Since Williams’ decision to remove Crane, she and Hayes have been unwilling to address the reasons for Crane’s dismissal. On March 21, school system Communications Specialist Eric Beavers sent an email to The Daily Citizen asking to know what questions a reporter had for Hayes concerning the Southeast athletic program. When Beavers was sent a list of questions and told in the email that the reporter wanted to talk directly to Hayes, Beavers replied that he would pass the information on to Hayes.

Hayes has never responded.

In a telephone interview that same day, Williams said she could not talk about “employee-employer relations.” Instead, she wanted to highlight the feeder systems coming into Southeast. Gray’s Valley Point and Eastbrook feed into Southeast.

“We have a rigorous program and we want to build a good feeder system, making our kids in the community feel like this is a place to come and play ball,” she said.

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