Originally created 11/17/00

Backbone of the program



The thought weaved through his mind like an open wide receiver slicing through his defense.

As he drove the 220-mile stretch from Lincolnton to Albany over the summer, Lincoln County defensive coordinator Howard Ellis wondered if he could relocate his family and become head coach of the Dougherty High Trojans.

The 48-year-old Ellis visited Albany twice. But the seven state championships and four runner-up finishes since he arrived at Lincoln County in 1980 -- among other things -- kept his heart at home.

"I knew if I was going to take a job, that one was it," Ellis said. "I felt it was a good opportunity. But it just wasn't right."

Ellis said he would have received a nice pay raise, but wouldn't specify how much.

"Money is not everything," he said. "You want to be happy with what you're doing. You want your family to be comfortable. You can make a lot of money and not be happy."

ASSISTANT COACHES ARE the backbone of football teams. They watch film. They call plays. They teach players the fundamentals.

If Ellis would have left, Lincoln County head coach Larry Campbell would have had a crater-sized void to fill.

"I would have hated to have lost him, but I wasn't going to stand in his way," Campbell said. "If he would have left, I would have had to make quite a few changes. But I was glad that he decided not to go."

At Lincoln County, Campbell has five assistant coaches, three of who have been there more than 10 years. The continuity of the Red Devils coaching staff has been a key to the team's success.

"From time to time, people ask what is the one thing that allows us to win consistently year in and year out. And I credit that to being able to get good assistants and keep 'em," Campbell said. " At our place my assistant coaches play a vital role. Each one has a position to coach and they coach it."

During the game, most assistant coaches either stand on top of the press box, in the press box or on the field calling plays.

That's one reason Harlem defensive coordinator Lonnie Morris gets along with head coach Jimmie Lewis.

"He trusts us enough as assistants to let us do our job," Morris said. "On Friday nights, if I make a call, he goes with it 100 percent. He's man enough that if it goes wrong he doesn't let us take the blame for it."

MORRIS HAS BEEN an assistant coach at Harlem for 17 years and was head coach of Harlem from 1989-91. Morris decided to let go of the head coaching duties when his wife started having children. Three girls -- with another baby on the way -- later, the 44-year-old Morris is content being an assistant.

"Time-wise, I built a new home and had a new baby," Morris said. "When you're a head coach, there's some other responsibilities that don't allow you to be around the house much. And you don't get to coach as much."

Like offensive linemen, assistant coaches don't get the same recognition that a head coach does. For assistants like Westside defensive backs coach Ivory Hugee, that's not a problem.

"He has to deal with the media and the community," he said. "Assistant coaches never have to talk to anybody. They don't have to deal with the politics."

HUGEE KNOWS POLITICS. For six years, he was head coach at Hephzibah.

He mowed the grass on the practice field. He showed his players what it takes to go to college. And he was let go at the end of the 1998 season when the school decided to go in another direction.

"It's a big cut when you go from head coach to assistant coach," Hugee said. "Nobody thinks about the coaches who lose $5,000 to 6,000 in salary. It's tough when you have to do that, but you make an adjustment."

Hugee picked up the pieces and found several jobs in front of him. In the end, he turned down Lincoln County for Westside.

"I had several opportunities to go places and make money," he said. "I was just looking for the right fit. I felt like Westside was the best fit for me."

MOST ASSISTANT COACHES are paid a base salary for teaching at the school, then get a supplement for coaching. The amount of the supplement depends on the individual school district.

A 1998 study by The Atlanta-Journal Constitution revealed that assistant coach supplements range from $500 to $15,222 a year.

In Richmond County, teams have four paid assistant coaching positions, along with two paid junior varsity jobs. Offensive and defensive coordinators are paid a set supplement of $3,050, while the other two assistants are paid $2,750. Head coaches receive a $6,000 supplement.

"I don't think it's fair to pay coaches with one year of experience the same as coaches with 30 years of experience," Hugee said. "There's no incentive to coach forever in one spot."

According to Dr. Wayne Wiggins, who retired in 1999 after serving 18 years as Richmond County's athletics director, the way assistants are paid puts some teams at a disadvantage.

"Richmond County does not pay as well as the counties with one school," he said. "And it does put Richmond County in a tough situation sometimes in finding good quality coaches. When we were hiring head coaches and assistant coaches it got real difficult hiring good assistant coaches."

According to the Richmond County Board of Education, here is the salary breakdown of supplements for football coaching positions:

Head football coach, $6,000

(2) Assistant football coach, coordinator (varsity), $3,050

(2) Assistant football coach (varsity), $2,750

Head football coach (junior varsity), $2,200

Assistant football coach (junior varsity), $1,650

Other coaching supplements:

Head boys or girls basketball coach, $3,000

Head baseball coach, $1,980

Head softball coach, $1,650

Head cheerleader coach, $1,650

Head soccer coach, $1,100

Head golf coach, $825

Head tennis coach, $825

Reach Chris Gay at (706) 868-1222.