By Drew Brantley
Transforming “dreams” into reality, Murray County assistant John Hammond, a 19-year veteran of high school coaching, has been promoted to lead the Indians on the football field.
“This is a dream come true,” Hammond said. “This is an opportunity high school coaches eventually want to get to. It’s a dream come true, but now the hard work begins.”
Hammond replaces John Zeigler. A longtime Murray County assistant before taking the head coach’s job, Zeigler stepped aside at the end of the Indians’ season in November after leading the Indians to a 4-16 record over two years.
Hammond is the fourth coach in six years for the program. Because Hammond is already under contract, the change in title is immediate and needs no approval from the school board. The promotion was announced Tuesday, when Hammond met with several returning football players after school for the first time as their head coach.
“It’s like I told the kids,” Hammond said. “I’ve been part of teams that were 14-0 and teams that were 0-10. And everything in between. The difference is not so much the talent level. It’s the effort and hard work and dedication. That’s something we’ll have to build and strive for.
“Coach Zeigler started that as far as better participation and working in the weight room. We’ve just got to build on that and expand it even more.”
Having Hammond already employed as a teacher made his selection preferable, Murray County athletic director Mitch Holcomb said.
“He knows the kids, and he’s been here,” Holcomb said. “He knows what needs to be done to get us on the right track. We’ve been down a little lately.”
Former Southeast Whitfield assistant David Gann and former Ridgeland assistant Keith Mariakis — neither of whom currently work in the Murray County school system — were also finalists for the job. Murray County High did not have an allotment for a new teacher when it made the decision to hire Hammond, Holcomb said.
“We did not have one at the time,” Holcomb said. “We probably could have gotten one, if we had needed it.”
The Zeigler era followed a two-year stint by Josh Lowe, who went 1-19 from 2007-08 and will return to coaching next season at Twiggs County after two years as North Murray High’s athletic director. Prior to that, the Indians were led for 16 seasons by Bill Napier — who will join Dalton’s staff as quarterbacks coach this season — whose teams won three region titles and made eight appearances in the postseason.
The Indians, who currently compete in Region 7-3A, have not had a winning season since 2005, when they went 7-4 and earned a spot in the Class 4A state playoffs. That was also the only winning record posted by Murray County in the past nine seasons.
Hammond has worked for Murray County since taking a teaching position at Bagley Middle School in 2002. He was assistant head coach and defensive coordinator under Lowe. Since then, he has worked with offensive and defensive linemen. He has taught U.S. history for the past three years at Murray County.
A 1991 graduate from Bluefield (W.Va.) State College, Hammond began his coaching career at Virginia’s Richlands High, serving as an assistant on the offensive and defensive lines, as well as defensive coordinator and assistant head coach while working there from 1991-2002. He served as a scout for Richlands in 1992 when it won the Virginia High School League Division 4 state title with a 14-0 record.
Hammond doesn’t anticipate having many upperclassmen when the Indians head to spring practice, most likely in May. He doesn’t necessarily see that as a disadvantage, though.
“We’re going to be a young team,” Hammond said. “We’ll have six or seven people coming back who’ll be seniors. With them being so young, it will be a whole lot easier to teach them, as far as the work ethic and dedication that it takes to be a championship football team. We’re nowhere near that now, but that’s what we’re striving for.”