After helping build one area program into an annual Georgia power, Ricky Ross is getting a chance to head up another perennial power in the area. Ross has been named the new head coach at South Pittsburg, after five years as Calhoun’s defensive coordinator.
Ross, 38, takes over for Vic Grider, who stepped down in December after 16 seasons at his alma mater in which he averaged 11 wins per season, winning three Class 1A state championships and finishing runner-up twice. Grider, who is also the school’s athletic director, headed a committee of five people who narrowed more than 140 applicants to a list of seven, then further trimmed it to three finalists before choosing Ross.
“We were all highly impressed by his first interview,” Grider said. “Everything he said was exactly what we wanted to hear in terms of his plans for the future of the program. Once we finished all the interviews, it just became obvious that Ricky was our guy. If there’s a coaching lottery, we feel like we hit the jackpot with him.
“His football knowledge is off the charts, but most importantly he’s a top-notch person. His energy level will make the kids attach themselves to him and he’ll fit in right away in the community.”
Ross helped the Yellow Jackets win eight straight region titles and since being promoted to defensive coordinator. Calhoun reached Georgia’s Class AA state title game each of the past five seasons, including a championship in 2011 with an upset of nationally-ranked Buford. Following that game, Buford coach Jess Simpson said, “Calhoun’s defense deserves all the credit. That was the best scheme we’ve seen in a long time. I was really impressed with how prepared they were and that defensive coordinator (Ross) is going to make somebody a heck of a head coach one day.”
During a 29-game winning streak over the 2011-12 seasons, Calhoun’s defense allowed just five opponents to score more than 14 points.
“Coach Ross will be an outstanding head coach,” said Alex Kirby, an all-state linebacker on Calhoun’s 2011 team, who currently plays at UT-Chattanooga. “I love Coach Ross because he’s just a great person who puts the players before anything else. He’ll help the kids there to make sure they’re doing what they should in school and off the field and he knows the game like nobody else I’ve played for.”
After losing all but one starter from the 2011 defense, Calhoun steadily improved last season, holding seven opponents to one touchdown or less to make another improbable run to the title game.
Ross is only the fourth head coach for South Pittsburg in the past 50 years, starting with Grider’s father, the late Don Grider, who won 192 games and a state title from 1969 to ’92. Danny Wilson took over the program from 1993 to ’96, winning a state title with Vic Grider as his defensive coordinator.
The Pirates have won more state championships (5) and appeared in more title games (11) than any other program in the area, and their 68 playoff wins are 16 more than Dalton, which is the next closest area team. After winning a state title in 1969, South Pittsburg is also the only school in Tennessee to have played for a championship in all six decades since the TSSAA began its playoff format.
The Pirates have played in the Class 1A title game in four of the last six years and last season lost by one in the second round to eventual state champion Gordonsville.
Prior to coming to Calhoun, Ross had been the defensive coordinator at Landmark Christian and Adairsville. Ross’s wife, Sandy, is a 1990 graduate of Marion County High School who lettered in three sports there. Grider admitted that having someone that would put down roots in the community and stay was an important part of the hiring process.
“There are very few places I would’ve left Calhoun for,” said Ross, who played linebacker at Cumberland University. “But this was just one of those places that has everything you want as a coach. They’re rich in tradition, football matters to the kids and the community and I like that. I’m honored to be in this position and I want to continue the tradition they already have and build on it.
“We will play hard, with a lot of effort and energy and be fundamentally sound and I want to inspire the kids to be great citizens and daddies after they’re done playing.”
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having 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, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...