In 2006, more than a decade and a half of stability at the top of Murray County High’s football program ended when coach Bill Napier resigned.
Coaches have made quick exits after taking the top spot for the Indians since then, though, and now the school must fill the job again.
John Hammond resigned as coach Monday, ending a two-season tenure in which he was 2-18, with both of those wins coming from forfeits by Dalton and Southeast Whitfield for the use of an ineligible player in 2011. The next hire for the Indians will be the program’s fifth coach in eight years.
Including the forfeits’ original scores, the Indians were outscored 213-0 in Hammond’s first three games. Murray County gave up at least 41 points in each game under Hammond, was shut out seven times and scored more than 14 points in a single game just once.
Hammond said balancing the demands of family and head coach reached a tipping point.
“Basically, these two years were two long, rough years,” Hammond said. “We spent a lot of time working as hard as we could, and you spend a lot of time away from your family. I have two kids, and basically I have missed out on two years of their lives. Being a football coach is a 12-month job, and right now they are in high school and they will be heading out into the world, and I need to recharge the batteries.”
The Murray County program needs recharging as well.
Since Napier resigned following an 0-10 season in 2006, Murray County has had three coaches, none of whom lasted more than two seasons. Josh Lowe, who followed Napier, was 1-19 in two seasons, and John Zeigler was 4-16 in his two seasons before Hammond, a long-time assistant coach at the school, was hired in March 2011.
“It has been kind of rough as far as wins and losses, but dealing with these kids, I would do it again in a heartbeat,” Hammond said. “I met with (the players) today, and basically told them that. This has been a special group of young men who have always worked as hard as they could even when the success on the field wasn’t there. We played a lot of young kids and did the best we could with what we had.
“We were low on numbers, and you have to tip your cap to the kids that came out and worked and kept fighting every single day.”
Linder said that while the wins on the field haven’t come as expected, Hammond did his job.
“We appreciate everything that coach Hammond has done for our program,” Linder said. “We recognize the sacrifice and appreciated all that he has done for these kids. We think they have grown because he is very good coach and a very good man.”
Murray County has not had a winning season since 2005, when it was 7-4 and lost in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs.
Since that time, the school system has added a new high school, and the Indians have seen their participation numbers plummet. In the 2006 and 2007 seasons, Murray County competed in Class 5A, which at the time was the GHSA’s largest classification. Murray County’s record since making the move is 7-63. Currently, the Indians compete in Class 2A.
In recent years, Murray County schools have been under budget constraints, forcing administrators to look within the system for most of their coaching hires. But North Murray went outside of the system to bring former Ringgold assistant David Gann in as its head football coach this spring — he led the Mountaineers to a 5-5 mark after they went 1-19 in their first two varsity seasons — and Linder said he expected to be able to thoroughly consider all applicants.
“I think we are trying to hire the best we can hire, whether they are from outside the system or not,” said Linder, a Murray County alum who is also the school’s boys basketball coach. “Everyone who applies will be under consideration. We are looking for somebody who is a good teacher, energetic. Somebody who has experience and knows the game of football and knows about building a program up. We aren’t trying to recreate the wheel, but we want someone who is energetic and can build back Murray County tradition.”
According to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association website (ghsfha.org), Napier was 94-78-1 in his 16 seasons as head coach, winning three region titles and making eight appearances in the postseason.
Overall, the program has a record of 285-346-11 since 1950 for a winning percentage of .452. However, the Indians haven’t won a postseason game since 2001.
Linder said the school’s administration as well as “other members” will form a committee to evaluate the coaching candidates and select a new coach.
“We’re not ready to name who yet, but we have talked about a committee,” he said. “We will have a committee to have a selection process. We have to fill that position and we need someone who can fit that mold. A good coach is a good teacher, and we will look at all aspects of their experience and what they bring to the position.”
Hammond will remain in his position as a social studies teacher in 10th-grade world history and 11th-grade U.S. history.
He said while he isn’t looking to return to coaching right away, it’s something he would consider.
“Who knows what will happen down the road,” Hammond asked. “One of the things I missed as a head coach was being a position coach. I love coaching the line, and I kind of miss that small-group kind of feel where you are one-on-one with the kids. As far as being a head coach again, maybe somewhere down the road it is something that I will look at again.”