Winning a state championship isn't a requirement to be a finalist for the Times Free Press Scrappy Moore Coach of the Year award, but it certainly helps.
Five of the six finalists for this year's award claimed titles, and the other led his team to the brink of one.
The winner will be announced at Thursday's Best of Preps banquet, with doors set to open at 6 p.m. and two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Eli Manning serving as the guest speaker.
The finalists for this year's coaching award are Steve Henry (Soddy-Daisy wrestling), Clifford Kirk (Soddy-Daisy softball), Hal Lamb (Calhoun football), Brent Tucker (Ringgold baseball), Tina Walker (Grace Academy softball) and Jimmy Weekley (Baylor girls' soccer).
Henry directed Soddy-Daisy to the state duals and traditional championships, a feat the Trojans had not accomplished since 2007. He retired recently as wrestling coach but will remain at the school in administration. His 27-year record was 610-162, with four traditional state titles and five runner-up finishes. His Trojans also captured four duals team championships with four runners-up trophies.
Kirk's 2012 Lady Trojans were coming off a runner-up finish in the TSSAA Class AAA state softball tournament, but they had graduated much of the offense off that 2011 team. With pitcher Kelsey Nunley as the only senior, Kirk guided the Lady Trojans back to the state final. where this time they won. The title is Kirk's 10th in his 28-year coaching career and eighth at Soddy-Daisy. As of late May, the Lady Trojans were ranked No. 11 in the ESPN Powerade FAB 50 and No. 14 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25.
Any coach in any sport at any level would envy Lamb's accomplishments. Entering this season he had coached Calhoun to 10 Georgia Region 7-AA football titles in 12 years, four of those ending in the state-championship game. But he lacked a state title, earning the Yellow Jackets a growing reputation as the Buffalo Bills of Georgia football. All that ended this year as the Jackets won that elusive championship against the team that had defeated them three consecutive years in the title game. The Buford Wolves, boasting as many as eight major college recruits, came in ranked in nearly every national poll, but Calhoun survived a late rally that sent the game into overtime and won 27-24 to complete a 15-0 season.
One year after a tornado left the baseball facility in shambles, Ringgold's baseball program had to overcome the loss of their top college prospect as well. Tucker guided the Tigers to the Region 7-AAA championship and the team advanced to the GHSA championship series, where they fell to a three-peating Columbus and finished 29-8 overall. After winning a tough Region 7 title, Ringgold claimed three playoff rounds before losing to the nationally ranked Blue Devils for their second runner-up trophy in three seasons. Eight seniors graduate from a program that went 81-23 the past three years and ended the season ranked inside the ESPN top 50 prep rankings.
In her sixth season with Grace's softball program, Walker looked around at the first practice and saw six players. Knowing three others would be along after basketball season helped a little, and two freshmen with little softball experience were coaxed into joining the team to add depth. That group eventually won the Class A state championship, the first state title in any sport for the school. And the Lady Golden Eagles did it the hard way, losing their first game in the state tournament and then winning six straight for the crown.
Weekley's Lady Red Raiders claimed their second consecutive Division II-AA state championship last fall, defeating St. Agnes for the second straight season in the final. Under the 16th-year coach's direction, Baylor finished with a 19-1 record and a No. 3 national ranking in the final ESPN fall poll. Six of his eight seniors signed NCAA Division I scholarships, and those players were 53-2-3 in their final three seasons.