Three new coaches prepare for 6-AA 'buzz saw'

Three new coaches prepare for 6-AA 'buzz saw'

July 25th, 2012 by Ward Gossett in Sports - Preps

E.K. Slaughter

E.K. Slaughter

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Jason Fitzgerald

Jason Fitzgerald

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

A poll of coaches

(not all returned ballots)

  1. East Hamilton

  2. Tyner

  3. Red Bank

  4. Hixson

  5. East Ridge

  6. Brainerd

  7. Central

  8. Howard

There are three new coaches in District 6-AA football this year, and each certainly hopes to avoid the rude welcome that was accorded 2011 newcomer Michael Calloway at Howard.

"I was the new guy and got treated as such," Calloway recalled about his first year as a head coach. "We ran into a buzz saw in nine teams."

This year's new guys already have an edge on Calloway, each having been a head coach elsewhere: East Ridge's Tracy Malone (Ardmore, Ala., and White County), Hixson's Jason Fitzgerald (Rhea County) and Red Bank's E.K. Slaughter (Soddy-Daisy and Cleveland).

"It will be an honor to coach against these guys. Some of them I've met and some of them don't remember me," said Malone, who began his coaching career as an assistant at Murfreesboro Riverdale to legendary Gary Rankin (now at Alcoa). "I met [East Hamilton] Coach [Ted] Gatewood back in 2001 when he was at Ooltewah and Riverdale played them in the state semifinals, and I called [Centra] Coach [John] Allen when he was coach at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe about an offensive coordinator's job, and he hung up on me."

Malone said "yes -- and no" when asked if being a new guy in the league was a plus.

"A lot of guys are not sure what we're going to do [schematically], but I have no clue what they're going to do," he explained. "But while coaches are an extremely competitive group -- even if it's a game of checkers, we want to win -- we all live in the same fishbowl."

Fitzgerald is really an old hand, and he's fairly familiar with the 6-AA competition. He coached against many of these teams when they were in 4-AA with his Rhea team. But after a year away from coaching last season following the death of his son, he decided to return to a familiar way of life.

"I do think of myself as a newcomer, and it's exciting," Fitzgerald said. "I'm dealing with these young men and their immediate families, and I don't know their grandparents or aunts or uncles -- people I might have known for 30 years."

But as a coach against a league of talented coaches, he doesn't see himself as a newcomer.

"You look at [Tyner's] Wayne Turner. He's a legend, a guy who has done so many great things for high school football. Coach Allen and I worked together at Rhea County. I've coached against Ted Gatewood, and E.K. and I have gotten to be good friends. But when it comes to X's and O's, coaching is way overrated. It depends on the guys that put on the uniforms. If you have some athletes that can play, you're going to be OK."

Slaughter has come home in a way. Before landing his first head coaching job at Soddy-Daisy, he was Red Bank's offensive coordinator under Tim Daniels, who resigned following the 2011 season.

"I'm spoiled. Much of the terminology I have used the last four years is the same as what I learned under Tim," Slaughter said. "The offensive coordinator [Kraig Campbell] and defensive coordinator [Tyler Rich] are the same as last year, so that's a plus.

"It's hard to say I feel like a newcomer. I don't feel like a veteran, but I don't feel completely brand new, either."

He knows he'll be facing good coaches every Friday night.

"This is a district that has talented coaches, a lot of veterans and a lot of coaches who've had success," Slaughter said. "If you have a tendency or a weakness, they'll find it, and there will be no off weeks in district play."

When asked if he had any advice for the newcomers, Allen had no really soothing words. He endured a 3-7 first year in 6-AA last season.

"We were 3-7 and lucky to do that," he said. " Everybody keeps bringing good coaches into the district and each week is going to be a test, but Tyner's going to beat the tar out of of you [physically], East Hamilton is going to beat on you, and Brainerd and Red Bank and so on. Develop some depth, because you're going to get beat up."

Contact Ward Gossett at or 432-886-4765.