Coahulla Creek principal Stanley Stewart had a good idea of what he wanted in a new football coach for Whitfield County’s newest high school.
If he were going to shoot for the moon, Stewart said Monday night, he wanted a person who had been a head coach, had run a good program, had run a clean program, had inspired young men, had taken teams to playoffs, had won region championships and perhaps even won a state title.
“That almost sounds like a dream,” Stewart told the crowd at the school during Monday night’s season-ending football banquet for the Colts. “But it became reality.”
And living on Signal Mountain in Tennessee, all he had to do was look down the valley to South Pittsburg to find exactly what he wanted.
Stewart introduced former South Pittsburg head coach Vic Grider as Coahulla Creek’s new coach and instantly placed his program in a new light by hiring one of the most successful football coaches in the South.
“He hasn’t thought about doing it,” Stewart said of his new hire. “He hasn’t talked about doing it. He has done it.”
Dependent on his approval by the Whitfield Board of Education at its next scheduled meeting on Jan. 6, Grider inherits a program which recently finished just its third season. After going 8-2 against junior varsity competition in 2011, when its only full class was the freshman class, Coahulla Creek had back-to-back 2-8 records against varsity competition in Region 5-3A the past two seasons.
Grider replaces Jared Hamlin, who was fired by Stewart on Nov. 11, three days after a season-ending 42-16 loss to Adairsville.
In 16 years as the head coach at South Pittsburg, Grider compiled a record of 162-43 with three Class 1A state championships and five appearances in the title game. His teams averaged more than 10 wins a season during that time, with 47 players earning all-state honors. Before taking over the Pirates’ program, Grider was an assistant coach under his father, who won 192 games as South Pittsburg’s coach.
Grider retired from coaching at the end of the 2012 season, remaining as South Pittsburg’s athletic director into this school year, and he will finish out the 2013-2014 academic year there.
But it didn’t take long for him to return to coaching when the right opportunity came along.
“I didn’t know a whole lot about the place, but when I came down here and met some of the people and saw the facilities, saw the commitment they were trying to make to do this the right way, I just couldn’t turn my back totally away from them,” said Grider, who spent 23 total seasons at South Pittsburg. “It was a different kind of challenge for me. This just reached out to me on some different levels to maybe do some things that I haven’t done. It is the right place for me right now.”
Grider was offered the job on Dec. 2 and turned the position down.
“When I told Dr. Stewart no the first time, I really thought it was over, but it never really left my mind,” Grider said. “He called me back and said they wanted me to take another look at this thing and be sure that you understand some of the things we have to offer — and I am not talking about money. This all happened so quick, and when I brought my wife back the second time and looked around, I felt like I had messed up by turning it down the first time. I just had a change of heart.
“All of us coaches are the same. We are all about challenges. It is part of the lure to see if we can take these young guys and develop them into something special. That is probably the reason that I am here.”
He wasted little time Monday night letting his new team and the entire Colts football community know what he expects from the program.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think we had a chance to do something very special here,” Grider said. “I was not actively pursuing a job. I had no reason to go anywhere. But there was something about this place, this administration and the people that I have met to this point that would not leave me.”
He then outlined what he will be seeking from those players and the boosters of the program.
“I am going to ask three things. No. 1, and probably the most important of the three, is to be patient in a lot of different areas,” he said. “I would be lying if I sat here and told you that we were going to fix this overnight. I would be lying if I said we would correct this thing in one year. Just be patient. I can promise you this, and I am not being egotistical in any way, but I think I know what it takes to win football games. If you will be patient and trust in what we are doing, we will get there at some point.”
“Two, I ask you to have faith in what we are doing,” he said. “I ask you to believe in what we are doing with these young men and trust that what we are doing is the right thing, and we will make good things happen.
“Lastly, I need a commitment. I need a commitment from every person in this room and not just from the young men who will put on the uniform. The commitment part doesn’t just lie with the football players, but with all of you as well.”
In addition to his salary for his duties on the school’s staff, Grider will receive a $7,500 athletic supplement, which is the same figure paid to each of the head football coaches at Whitfield County’s three high schools. Stewart said he expects Grider to bring in at least four coaches with him to supplement the staff.
“I don’t know the exact number, but I do know there will be some attrition and I do know because of growth — we will finally have a full four grades next year — we will get some additional slots,” Stewart said.
Grider said he hopes the transition is a smooth one.
“I will start the process of evaluating the coaches that are on staff and seeing who we want to make part of this staff,” he said. “A lot of the numbers of coaches that we bring in will be determined by what happens there.”
According to a list provided by Whitfield County Schools communications director Eric Beavers after The Daily Citizen made an open records request, a 15-member interview panel was assembled and included Stewart, assistant principals Stephanie Hungerpiller and Sonya Planzer, North Whitfield Middle School principal Andrea Bradley, athletic director Rhett Parrott, head baseball coach Michael Bolen, assistant basketball coach LaDawn McClary, bookkeeper Stacey Street and athletic secretary Angela Fleming.
The committee members outside of school personnel on the list were booster club president Richard Hargis, former booster club president Chip Whitfield and football players Joseph Ellison, Ross Hargis and Erik Dominguez. However, Dominguez, who is a senior at the school, said the list was incorrect and that his younger brother Josue Dominguez was actually on the panel.
The younger Dominguez said four finalists — Grider, Hixson (Tenn.) High School head coach Jason Fitzgerald, Forsyth Central assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Travis Ellington and Coahulla Creek assistant coach Chip Fleming — were brought before the panel.
A total of 36 people were listed as applicants.
“(Grider) definitely stood out from the other guys that were nominated,” Dominguez said. “He is real good. He definitely brings something that we didn’t have here and he is going to be real good for us.”