Steve Daffron never considered himself to be a gold mine, even during his days as a Whitwell High School quarterback or an East Tennessee State linebacker, but in today’s economic and educational environment, he is worth his weight in gold.
“You just don’t hire a coach and put him in a physical education position these days,” he said.
The 61-year-old Daffron is a true volunteer assistant football coach whose compensation is satisfaction from a job well done and getting out of the house.
“If my wife was home all day and I was there too, she’d probably kill me,” he said with a laugh.
Daffron might occasionally limp due to a hip replacement, but he is retired from the trucking industry and fills his late summer and autumn afternoons with football at Hixson High.
“He’ll do all of our film work, and he’s also helped me in the equipment room. He’ll be helping coach our linebackers and running backs too,” said new Wildcats coach Jason Fitzgerald, who inherited Daffron from Houston White.
“He was great,” White said. “A knowledgeable guy to work with and a guy who’d do anything you asked. He just loves being around it. He’s a guy who probably wishes he had gone into coaching early in life, and now he just soaks it all up.”
Such guys can be hard to find, though. Lookout Valley coach Tony Webb has had years with and without volunteers.
“Last year we didn’t. This year we are,” he said. “So much depends on the [volunteer] and whether he wants to do it. I don’t want somebody that’s just here every other day. He has to be here and know what he’s doing. But a lot of people just don’t have the time. It’s a lot of work. You’re looking at somewhere between 20-25 hours per week on top of a regular job.”
Volunteer coaches are becoming a survival must in high school athletics, as a number of schools listed 10 or more assistant coaches on the TSSAA directory last year. Hamilton County provides pay for four football assistants, and the TSSAA allows schools to have up to three unpaid volunteers.
The number of paid assistants in Georgia and Tennessee varies by school systems.
“In Catoosa County, we are allowed six paid assistants, but in other places it might be 10,” Ringgold coach Robert Akins said.
Akins likely will have volunteers this year because he plans to run varsity, junior varsity and freshman teams filled with 75 or more players.
“The ideal [player-to-coach] ratio is probably 8-to-1 or 9-to-1,” he said.
“A lot of [having volunteer assistants] has to do with numbers,” East Hamilton coach Ted Gatewood said. “We’ll probably be close to 80 [varsity] kids, and there is not enough manpower to cover everything we need to cover [with four paid assistants]. You have to get all the kids enough reps.”
Some schools have used faculty members in non-paid assistant positions. Joe Wingate teaches at East Hamilton and helps with the football program with no supplement. Signal Mountain coach Bill Price has retired Hamilton County coach, teacher and administrator Ernie McCarson among his assistants.
“It would be better if all the coaches could be on staff, but you have to go outside the school system to get enough coaches,” Price said.
Hamilton County once provided a supplement for a freshman coach, but that was eliminated several years ago, increasing the demands on high school coaching crews.
“These days you are coaching more in depth because of the [complicated] offenses that a lot of folks are running. Volunteer coaches are a must,” said Price, who will have a squad of at least 70 this fall. “The better kids are coached up during the week, the better they’re going to play on Friday nights.”
A volunteer coach must pass a background check and a TSSAA certification test.
In Polk County’s run of 10 straight winning seasons, Wildcats coach Derrick Davis has had success with volunteers. He has needed them, especially earlier this summer.
“I had an accident about a month ago, and I have missed time [with players] in the weight room, and I just mowed [game and practice fields] the other day for the first time this summer,” Davis said. “We can’t do much for volunteers other than maybe a shirt and some [coaching] shoes, but having them makes it much better all the way around.
“It’s good having more people around to lean on when things get tough, and they’ve done a great job of covering for me in the weight room and doing the mowing.”
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...