Derek Waugh made annual trips to Chattanooga in the early 1990s when he was starring in basketball at Furman University.
After giving up a law career in Atlanta, his hometown, he assisted and then succeeded former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach Murray Arnold in directing the Stetson University men's basketball team.
Waugh, in fact, was the youngest Division I head coach in the NCAA when he took over the Hatters in 2000 at the age of 2009, and he surpassed Arnold in victory total in becoming the second winningest coach in program history before stepping aside to become an assistant athletic director at the DeLand, Fla., school last March.
As of last Wednesday he is the athletic director at Dalton State College, which has no sports but intends to start some soon.
"This is a great day in the history of Dalton State ... the return of athletics to the Roadrunner Nation," Dr. John Schwenn, the school president, said in introducing Waugh to a group of media representatives and community supporters.
As Dalton Junior College the school had a sports program with a high-powered, high-ranking men's basketball team from 1968 to 1978. Melvyn Ottinger coached those Roadrunners as well as tennis and golf and served as athletic director.
Ottinger also taught classes and headed the physical education prorgram during his 36 years at the school before retiring, and he was on the AD search committee headed by Dalton businessman Ken White.
"I don't think there is any doubt that [Waugh] is a perfect fit for this job," Ottinger said in the introductory news release. "He is articulate, educated and experienced."
Waugh was an Academic All-American as well as a first-team All-Southern Conference player at Furman, where he receied a bachelor's degree in political science before earning a juris doctorate from Wake Forest. He proved to be engaging and witty as well as enthusiastic in his remarks Wednesday, and he took those assets into meetings the next two days with Dalton-area civic and business leaders.
Recounting his inability to hit Dalton High School pitchers led by Jon Hebel and Russ Chapman when his Marist baseball team visited for the North Georgia Championship in 1988 -- and then dropping a foul ball that led to the tying run in the third game of the series -- Waugh joked that he had "a history of benefiting athletics in Dalton" long before applying for the advertised AD position.
He was one of more than 70 applicants and one of three who interviewed for the job.
"We think Derek's got a lot of energy and that he shows a lot of intelligence," White said in the school release. "He's played at a high level, coached at a high level and been assistant athletic director at a very fine school. We're very high on him."
Waugh, who was extensively involved in Stetson's move to add football, said no sports would be launched at Dalton State until a sound "infrastructure" is in place, but he said he hoped to hire a basketball coach by this summer and give him a year to recruit.
He responded to a question that he "would expect" women's basketball to be started "concurrently" with a men's team, but he was careful to avoid saying basketball definitely would be DSC's first four-year sport.
"I know basketball is a great spectator sport and has a fantastic history here, but the individual sports are the easiest to add," he said, "and this area is so immensely talented in so many sports."
Waugh cited his Marist coach, Ron Bell -- "who grew up in Ringgold" -- as one of the greatest influences on his life, "and Coach Bell had a lot of good things to say about Dalton State."
When Bell was inducted last spring into the GACA Hall of Fame, which is housed at the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center near DSC, Waugh came to Dalton and thought "this would be a cool place to live."
"A couple of months later, this job was posted and I had a chance to make that happen," he said. "I really think this is where I'm supposed to be."
Later in the news conference he said, "There are three reasons why I'm so excited about being here. Number one, the location. I'm a Georgia boy and this is close to where grew up. Number two, the people I've met here. I already feel so welcome. And finally, the chance to start something and put in an imprint. This is a chance that very few get."
He promised to make the Roadrunners program extremely "accessible" and fun for the community and students as well as for the athletes, "and I want to hire people that are high-character and people that are enthusiastic."