As Dalton High School begins its search for a new football coach, athletic director Ronnie McClurg said earlier this week that the program will target proven winners, particularly those with championship experience.
Whoever is eventually hired had better bring a couple of other traits as well, namely a stout backbone and some seriously thick skin.
Dalton has one of the proudest football traditions in the area, having finished with a winning record for an astonishing 50 straight years. That's the longest current streak in the nation and ranks among the top five all-time. During that 50-year run the program has had just five head coaches, with a sixth soon to be added to the list.
Adam Winegarden resigned Monday after just two years as the Catamounts' head coach. He had been a Dalton assistant for eight years before that and had a winning record in both his seasons as head coach. The sudden vacancy is reason for caution both for those in charge of hiring a new coach and the man who accepts the job.
Like any traditional power, Dalton doesn't lack for community support, and several boosters are willing to give their time and considerable money to help the program maintain its lofty status. Everything about the program is first-class, lending a small-college feel to Friday nights at Harmon Field. But all of that atmosphere and backing brings with it similar pitfalls that surround the college game, most notably some boosters with notions of entitlement.
And that apparently is what brought Winegarden to leave. By all accounts -- from administrators and community leaders to opposing coaches -- Winegarden knew both the X's and O's of the game as well as how to live as an example of a devoted family man of faith.
In late January he was named one of three finalists for the Perry (Ga.) High School head coaching and athletic director position. That could have resulted in a hefty raise for him and his family, which includes three children and a fourth on the way. Once word surfaced that Winegarden had looked elsewhere, a group of boosters pulled their support and reportedly went to school administrators, including McClurg, who had coached the Catamounts for seven years before handpicking Winegarden as his successor.
McClurg continued to support the 32-year-old Winegarden, but the young coach recognized the program would not survive with division and stepped down. The school's search committee will be deliberate in choosing a new coach and could extend the process into April.
The catch-22 for the new coach will be making a positive impression on the community's influential boosters while also having enough grit to keep everyone not on the coaching staff on the outside of all on-field matters.
The man who set the standard for stroking egos without actually allowing them to influence game-time decisions is Bill Chappell, who won 317 games and a state championship and went to the title game five other times during his 33 years with the Catamounts.
The stadium where the Catamounts play bears Chappell's name, and although wants to keep his distance from the current coaching search, he has an opinion on the matter. And it's one that should be heeded by those choosing the new leader of the program, as well as every booster who wears the red and white on Fridays in the fall.
"The stands are full of critics every Friday night, but the first thing the new coach has to do is let everybody else know that it's his program," Chappell said. "He's in charge and he's calling the shots. Everybody at the school has to make sure the coach is allowed to be in complete control, because his job is hard enough already.
"You tell everybody else you want and need their support to help with certain things, but their job is to supplement and complement the program. They can't believe they have any say in things that happen on the field or in the program.
"You have a lot of great support for the program, but there are always some people who try to overstep their role. No matter how important they want to think they are, the program is bigger than any one booster or group. It should be all about what's best for the kids."
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 20 years, starting at the News-Free Press as a 19-year-old reporter. He has been with the Times Free Press since its inception and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation ...