Barely two months after accepting the offer to become South Pittsburg High School's football coach, Ricky Ross has informed athletic director Vic Grider and Marion County schools superintendent Mark Griffith that he no longer will head the program.
The former Calhoun (Ga.) High defensive coordinator was named the Pirates coach in late January and had begun overseeing offseason weight training. Spring practice has not begun.
"The bottom line is we're on different levels as far as commitment," Ross said. "It wasn't just one thing, it was a series of events, and I felt like it was best if I pursued other options.
"Everything that I've been brought up to believe, as far as a commitment level from the administration and school system, was different from how I thought it would be. Ultimately what would have happened is I would have been an unhappy employee, so it's better for both sides to go ahead and part ways."
Ross, 38, was not yet an employee of the Marion County school system, but Griffith said both Ross and his wife were guaranteed teaching jobs in the system beginning this fall.
Ross declined to comment on a report that he had been in discussion with a high school in Douglasville (Ga.) about its head coaching job. He did confirm that his job at Calhoun already has been filled.
"I called Ricky twice to try and talk him into staying, but both times he said at this point in time it was in his and his family's best interest to stay in Georgia," Griffith said. "The reason can't be over him not having a teaching position. It's all about timing, but there are three teachers that are retiring after this school year, and Ricky and his wife both had guaranteed jobs. And those jobs were very secure.
“There was some confusion. [Ross] was really told he would be brought into the system on March 1, and this didn’t happen. The administration at SPHS knew it couldn’t happen. There needs to be some clarification on that on behalf of the Rosses.
"I know Coach Grider has said he does not want to take the program back over, so we will open the position back up and see who is interested."
Grider stepped down in December after 16 seasons at his alma mater in which his teams averaged 11 wins per year, won three Class 1A state championships and finished runner-up twice. Ross was chosen from among more than 140 applicants after helping Calhoun reach Georgia's Class AA state-title game each of the past five seasons, winning it in 2011.
"Obviously, I'm very disappointed," Grider said. "I think he's completely accurate about us having a difference of opinion in what commitment means. He and his wife had guaranteed jobs, he had a full allotment of four paid assistants and a volunteer coach, plus we were going to use one of the teaching positions that's coming open to hire another assistant.
"And we had $30,000 set aside for new weight room equipment or to use however he saw fit for the program. We gave him everything we promised when he took the job and more. How many schools our size are that committed?
"I'm from the old school, and when you tell somebody you're going to do something, you do it. He committed to me, to our school, to 45 kids on the team and to our community. The whole community took him in and was behind him. He's right. There was a lack of commitment, but it wasn't on our part."
Ross would have been 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, the next closest area team. South Pittsburg is 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.
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 ...