Laney High School will place its hopes for a return to football glory on Eric Parker, when school officials announce him as its new head coach at an 11 a.m. press conference on Thursday.
The 29-year-old Parker is in his fourth year as offensive coordinator and head boys basketball coach at Social Circle, a Class A school in Walton County, approximately 45 miles east of Atlanta.
Parker began his coaching career at Washington-Wilkes in 1989, where he was head boys basketball coach, and an assistant varsity and junior varsity football coach.
Laney finished the 1996 season 1-9 under controversial head coach Otis Smart, who resigned in December. In three seasons, Smart posted a record of 9-21. Last October, Smart was acquitted of sexual battery charges involving a former girls basketball player.
Richmond County Athletic Director Wayne Wiggins and Laney principal Rush Utley would neither confirm nor deny that Parker was the Wildcats' new coach.
"I'm losing a great one, unfortunately, but I couldn't be happier for him," said Social Circle head coach Ben Reaves, who coached with Parker as an assistant at Washington-Wilkes and brought him along five years ago when he took his first head coaching job.
"Laney made a great move by hiring him. There's is a program that has had some problems but also has a lot of promise, and Eric is the perfect man to see that promise through," Reaves said.
A graduate of Georgia Southern, Parker was a defensive back on the 1983 Mitchell-Baker team that won the Class AAA state championship.
Parker served as offensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at Social Circle, which has posted a 14-26 mark in four seasons under Reaves.
The Augusta Chronicle could not reach Parker at his home Tuesday evening. Social Circle played a road game Wednesday at Georgia Military College in Milledgeville, Ga.
"Laney has always had good athletes and that could be a real successful program with the right person," said Washington-Wilkes coach Butch Brooks, who recommended Parker to Wiggins last week. "Laney couldn't go wrong with Eric. They got a great young football coach. I'm very proud of him."
Ironically, Parker has family ties to John Starr, the head coach of Laney's fiercest Region 3-AAA and inner-city rivals - Josey. Parker is the first cousin of Starr's wife, Jennie.
"He's just a super guy and we're pretty close," said Starr, who in 1993 took over a similarly dismal Josey program that went 8-22 in the three seasons prior to his arrival, and built it into a Class AAA champion three seasons later. "He's the ideal guy for that situation because he's the kind of guy who will roll up his sleeves and get to work. If they give Eric the proper amount of time to turn that thing around, Laney could do what we've done here at Josey. It's a very similar situation."
A once storied program that was a state power for years in the 1950s and 1960s under legendary coach David Dupree, Laney has struggled in recent years. Under John Flen, the Wildcats were 20-30 in the five years prior to Smart's tenure. Including Smart's record, Laney is 29-51 since 1989 and have had just two winning seasons since 1983.
Dupree built Laney into one of the traditional powers in the black high school association (GIA), and won state titles in 1961 and '66.
"I've talked a lot with Eric about the Laney situation, even before he applied for the job, and we talked about Laney's history," Starr said. "There's probably going to be more pressure on him than there was on me to turn it around, because Josey was never expected to do well in football. We've always been a basketball school. At one time, Laney was the football power, and I know the people there want to rekindle the Dupree era. If anyone's gonna do it, it will be Eric. He's got that much potential as a coach."