For its new head football coach, Whitwell High School has turned to one of its own. Rocky Stephenson, a former two-sport athlete at the school and 1989 graduate, as well as a Tigers assistant since 2015, was named the program's coach on Thursday.
"This opportunity means a lot to me. I'm excited," said Stephenson, who has also coached baseball at Whitwell the past four seasons. "Growing up here and playing here makes it special because this is my home. Since I've been here I've seen the ups and downs of the program and this is a good opportunity to come in and bring the excitement back to the community."
Stephenson was a two-time all-state football player who passed up a scholarship offer from Middle Tennessee State University to play baseball at Chattanooga State.
Also joining the Tigers staff, pending Marion County school board approval, will be veteran coach Bill Price, who led Signal Mountain to the 2010 Class 2A state championship and has had a successful head coaching career at several other stops. Price will work as the team's offensive coordinator.
"I wanted to build a good staff because that's important to get things going in the right direction again," Stephenson said. "The head coach gets most of the credit or criticism but you've got to have a good staff to be successful and Coach Price has won at a big time level.
"We've got a lot of hard work ahead. It won't be easy, but we're ready to get started."
The Tigers are just two years removed from winning the Class 1A state title but have fallen on hard times the past two seasons, finishing a combined 4-18. Stephenson takes over for Jake Cabell, who coached the program for just one season before resigning in mid-December.
Because Stephenson becomes Whitwell's 11th head coach in the past 17 years, having someone who knows the community and wants to remain with the program was an important factor in the hiring as administrators want stability.
"I am excited that Whitwell has named Rocky as the head football coach," Marion County school superintendent Mark Griffith said. "Rocky is a local guy that was an outstanding athlete at Whitwell. I knew his character and commitment when he played and I know his character and commitment now to the students of Whitwell. He will be an asset to the program.
"I am also glad that, with approval, Bill Price will be coming aboard to help coach."
Price, who retired from coaching after the 2014 season to go into private business, compiled 172 career wins and gained a reputation for being a program builder with successful stints at Lookout Valley, Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe, Soddy-Daisy, Hueytown (Ala.), Bradley Central, Coffee County and Signal Mountain.
His first head coaching job came as a 21-year old, where he guided a Lookout Valley program that had not had a winning season in six years and produced back-to-back 6-win seasons. In 1992 he took over a Soddy-Daisy program that hadn't had a winning record in 10 years and guided the Trojans to five straight winning seasons, including 21 wins over a two-year stretch.
He oversaw the start of the Signal Mountain program in 2008 and led the Eagles to a championship faster than any start-up program in state history with the 2010 title, which capped a 14-0 season.
"I still went to games every Friday because I love it," Price said. "Rocky is a real good guy and a good coach and I just wanted to help him in any way I can to build the program to be successful.
"This is a good opportunity for me because I can still work at my current job and be there in time for practice every day to coach the kids without having to worry about all the extra things that come with being a head coach. I'm anxious to get started."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.