When legendary football coach Luther Welsh retired after the 2010 season, John Barnett decided to follow him.
Since then, the retired Thomson defensive coordinator has received calls every year asking him to get back in the game. He turned them all down, until a few weeks ago.
Glynn Academy head coach and former Thomson assistant Rob Ridings was hired in April to replace Milan Turner as head coach of the Bulldogs. Since then, the football program has lost four assistants for various reasons. Earlier this month, Ridings approached Barnett about making a return.
“These guys are my friends and they were in a bind,” Barnett said. “I’m just trying to help them out.”
Few people know more about Thomson football than Barnett, who began following the program as a child in the late 1960s. He witnessed first-hand the exploits of Ray Guy and his teammates as they went undefeated in 1967 and 1968 en route to a pair of state titles.
Barnett, 56, knows a thing or two about state championships himself. In 21 years as the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator, Barnett teamed up with Welsh to help lead Thomson to state titles in 1984, 1985 and 2002.
With the return of Barnett, Thomson now has five coaches who worked under Welsh during the school’s last state championship run in 2002. On that team, Ridings served as offensive coordinator, Lee Hutto – the current defensive coordinator – was a defensive line coach. Also, Alvin Wright and Brad Smith were assistants. Those five coaches are back trying to get the Bulldogs on track after last season’s 3-7 campaign – one of two losing seasons the past 15 years.
“We learned so much from coach Welsh,” Barnett said. “You don’t outsmart people, you outwork them.”
Barnett hasn’t slowed down since retiring from Thomson. He’s been taking care of his 4-year-old daughter, Callie Ann, while his wife, Kim, works as an assistant principal at the school. He’s also attended home football games, watched film and offered advice to Hutto.
And on Thursday nights, he and Ralph Starling have broadcast Sports Talk with Coach and Ralph on WTHO in Thomson.
If that wasn’t enough, Barnett started working with Alvin Richardson earlier this year on a book about the history of Thomson football titled, Ghosts of the Brickyard. The 350-page book should be ready for sale by August, Barnett said.
As for this season, he’s not ready to definitively call this a one-year deal.
Barnett said he’s unsure what the future holds beyond this season.
“I learned a long time ago never to say never,” Barnett said. “If it turns into more than one year, we’ll just have to wait and see.”