Football Coaching Carousel 2023 Edition: Loganville, Vidalia, Northside
As we get ready for another high school football season, I went over to the Coach Georgia website trying to do the math for another year of Coaching Carousel.
The numbers (as I'm typing, anyway...) are an even 100 openings for the 2023 season that’s just around the corner. There’s the first-timer, the coordinator that takes the step up in class, the coach from out-of-state trying to work in Georgia and see what life is like in the #3 state in the country for recruiting, and the college coach wanting to switch to the high school environment. Al those different coaches that are trying their next entry on their CV this time around... and I caught up with three of the 100...
All of us at “Football Fridays” remember Gene Cathcart... one of the best soundbites around. After his time at Jefferson, he went back to South Carolina to coach at Batesburg-Leesville in for one season. But, he’s back on this side of the Savannah River as the new head coach at Loganville- taking over for Brad Smith who moved to Allatoona.
“It’s an outstanding place,” Cathcart tells me. “You’re well-supported here and I’m fortunate to keep and add to the staff here. The people here are folks that you really want to be in the foxhole with every day. I have an incredible amount of respect for (Principal) Dr. Brad Bolemon and (Athletic Director) Jeff Segars and the rest of the leadership here. It’s a quality school and the successes aren’t just in football but in other sports as well.”
For some background, Coach Cathcart knew Loganville’s legendary head coach, Tommy Stringer, and learned under Hab Central’s Larry Black during his first head coaching job in Mt. Airy from 2003-2008.
“Coach Black was ‘old school.’ He had legal pads all over the place and they weren’t in chronological order for the interim AD and head football coach when Coach Black was sick. But you learned about what you could do to make everyone’s job easier around you. He taught me to always be organized, be prepared, and ‘control the controllables.’
“He would always ask me, ‘What can you do about it?’ when something came across my desk that was out of my control and I tried to fix it," says Cathcart.
Those lessons have stayed with him wherever he has been and that now includes going against his old school and being in a tough region.
“Jefferson, with Coach Noland, they’re a top-flight bunch,” Cathcart says. “I mean, with players like Sammy Brown, they’re the Alpha around here. You’ve got Clarke Central with what Coach Perno is doing, Winder-Barrow with a new coach hired out of Florida, an Eastside team that’s well-coached and deeper than they may look to the eye, and a region that has 5 or 6 teams chasing the playoffs.”
He admits it’ll be a challenge this year, but coach also says that “no one got famous for walking up a small hill, they did it by climbing a mountain.” They’ll have that chance this season several times over. The team’s motto is: “Believe in and believed in...” knowing that Loganville players will be a part of something they can be proud of and be equal in knowing the players understand just how important they are to each other on the field and off every day.
Rodney Garvin was successful at Metter in his first head coaching job- that he took in his early 50’s- to the tune of four straight post-season runs in five years there. The visits to the quarterfinals and semifinals were great for that community and fan base. But if you ask Garvin, the chance to go back to Vidalia was like going home.
“It’s almost like I never left,” he says. “My first day back, and the timeline was pretty quick- Metter lost their playoff game and Vidalia reached out the very next day. I took over here in January. First block, I’m unlocking the locker room and I’m like ‘okay, I just take this right turn and I’m going into my office.’ The thing is: that was my old office when I was an assistant for 11 years. My office is upstairs now.
“It was like I had taken a long vacation. Our kids graduated here in 2014 and 2016 and there is a comfort in this place. There really is.”
But Coach Garvin admits that if his wife, Kim, hadn’t given the thumbs-up it wouldn’t have happened.
There’s a lot of growing that has to happen with the team as they get ready for this season.
Vidalia went to a padded camp recently. The staff and the players had a heart-to-heart talk after the first day about what was being asked of them and what was expected. The second day, the kids responded and they’re doing the best they can as both the coaches and student-athletes learn about one another here in the summer.
“Being in Vidalia reminds me of when I was on Coach Luther Welsh’s staff in Thomson,” Garvin says. “There’s this over-arching tradition here where Literary and Band are just as important as football. Everything has to be successful, and the town takes pride in winning across the board. In the community, everyone gets along and looks after each other.”
That’s what Vidalia means to those there.
Toombs is Game Ten for Vidalia this year and they’re in a region and a schedule that has Pierce, Appling, Brantley, Tattnall, and Windsor Forest for an opener.
“We’re not going to out-athlete anyone, but we’re going to battle as we do one game at a time.”
Ben Bailey is taking the plunge as the new head coach at Northside-Warner Robins after his time at Peach County. But as someone who knows what high school sports mean to the town you’re in, Bailey knows his new job is a special one. He comes from being the OC at Peach County and, before that, holding the same title at Houston County.
“It’s a little different being the head coach instead of being an Offensive Coordinator,” he tells me. “Especially things like the fundraising part. How much money do you need to raise for 150-plus football players...? The logistics involved as a head coach...things like that...”
And with his history in central Georgia, he understands all about traditions and what these teams and programs mean to their supporters.
“People here love Northside,” he tells me, “...and I had only been here a month earlier this year and got to see that. I took phone calls when I first got here and people were asking how they could support the program. Everyone has had the program’s back from the beginning."
“It has been humbling, to be honest, I knew about Coach (Conrad) Nix and the history. I knew it was rich and it has a great family tradition. It’s humbling and exciting all at the same time to be here.”
In cases like these three coaches, and especially ones with their first head coaching job, I like to ask who a coach can reach out to quickly with any questions- and I mean ANY question...
“Coach Nix is one of them,” Coach Bailey admits. “He’s given me a tremendous amount of support. (Former Houston County head coach) Ryan Crawford knows all about the tradition and community here. And (former Peach County) Coach (Chad) Campbell is there as well as Perry Head Coach Kevin Perry.
“If I call any of them, they get back right to me on any random question...”
Well, like what...???
“Probably, the most random question was something like: What is a time to take team pictures- trying to be as efficient as possible... what’s the best time on that...?”
I called Coach Bailey as he was getting lunch for his staff just before dead week was about to commence. He knows there’s work to do but the buy-in has been there since Day One back in January. That includes getting the student-athletes ready for not just football but graduating and getting them ready for the next steps in their lives...
“It’s been really good...”
And we’ll be keeping an eye on all of it going forward.
Play it safe, everyone... We’ll see you soon!