When the pain of losing his wife Kay five years ago to brain cancer seemed too much to withstand, Butch Brooks almost walked away from the game he loved.
Five years later, the longtime Washington-Wilkes football coach is walking away. This time, on his own terms. This time, for all the right reasons.
Brooks is stepping down after 18 years at Washington-Wilkes, 27 years overall coaching Georgia high school sports, to accept the newly created position as director of high school relations for the Georgia Tech football program.
"It couldn't happen at a better time than right now, after retiring here," said Brooks, who posted a 144-55 record and led Washington-Wilkes to the state playoffs 13 times, including three state runner-up finishes. "I'm excited about it. I hate leaving the folks here because everyone here has been so good to me. From the faculty to the secretaries to the administration. The people of Washington have been wonderful. I'm going to miss them but I'm excited about this opportunity."
During his tenure, the 51-year-old Brooks became one of the most popular and well-respected coaches in Georgia and served for one year as president of the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association.
That popularity could pay huge dividends for Georgia Tech recruiting, even though Yellow Jackets coach George O'Leary and says Brooks' primary job is not to recruit.
"We wanted to get someone to be sort of an in-house person who had a hand in the state of Georgia," said O'Leary, who first became acquainted with Brooks during the recruitment of former Washington-Wilkes star Ed Wilder, a fullback off a strong college debut last season as a freshman at Georgia Tech.
"We've taken more kids from the state this year than we have the last few years and we can get a lot more done, we feel, with Butch's knowledge of coaches and people in the state," O'Leary added. "He'll be kind of like that transition person between the high school to the college coach."
Brooks arrived at Washington-Wilkes in 1980 after seven seasons as an assistant under legendary coach Nick Hyder at Valdosta. He also coached the Valdosta baseball team for six seasons, winning a state title in 1978.
The Whiteville, N.C., native said he turned down similar offers from former Georgia coach Ray Goff and former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Ross several years ago but wasn't ready to jump to the college ranks until now.
"The folks here have been so good to me, they've always shown a commitment to me and my coaching staff and this football program, so I always felt that I needed to do the right thing by them," Brooks said. "We've always been one big family, but now I just felt like the time was right to move on, for me and for Washington-Wilkes."
Brooks, who remarried last June to the former Kathy Zelenka of Pascagoula, Miss., will finish out the school year as athletic director and begin his duties at Georgia Tech on July 1.
"I've had some great times during my time here and I've also been through some difficult times," Brooks said. "It's time to move on. The time is just right."