Barely two months after accepting the offer to become South Pittsburg's new football coach, Ricky Ross has informed school athletic director Vic Grider and Marion County schools superintendent Mark Griffith that he will no longer head the program. The former Calhoun (Ga.) defensive coordinator was named the Pirates coach in late January and had begun overseeing offseason weight training. Spring practice had not yet 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 according to Superintendent Griffith, both Ross and his wife were guaranteed teaching jobs in the system beginning this fall.
Ross declined to comment on or confirm one 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 had already 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.
"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."
Ross originally took over for 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. Ross was chosen from a list of more than 140 applicants after he had helped Calhoun reach Georgia's Class AA state title game each of the past five seasons, including a championship 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 can 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 and 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, 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.
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.