Augusta's football teams have a problem with turnovers.
Not fumbled snaps. Not tough interceptions.
Coaches. There are 12 new head coaches in the Aiken-Augusta area this fall. There were 14 new coaches in 2002. Another 10 moved on in 2001.
"The CSRA has always had coaches come and go," Lincoln County coach Larry Campbell said. "Not many stick. It's just the way it has been."
At one time, a head coach was as much a fixture in a community as a mayor or a sheriff. Not anymore. Imagine a seventh-grader. Some are ballboys or team managers. They throw the little white footballs behind the stands on Friday night. That youngster and his parents might think they know the coach he'll play for during his senior year six seasons later.
Good luck with that now. Only 12 head coaches among 46 area high schools are with the same program they worked for in 2000. That's 74 percent turnover.
"There's a lot of times I don't know the other fella coaching on the other sideline," Thomson coach Luther Welsh said. "Until we play them the first time. Then I will know who he is."
An interesting question is, what made those 12 stay?
Making a career of it
Campbell has won more games than any coach in Georgia history. His 389 career victories rank fifth nationally. This is his 35th season leading Lincoln County's program. He won his first state title in 1976. His 10th came last year. He has won 85 percent of his games since taking the job in 1972.
Only two coaches in America have won more than 389 games at one school. He gives a few reasons for that longevity. Most importantly, he's in a special place.
"I cannot remember a time, if any, where I went up to a young man in our school and asked him to play football," Campbell said. "Other coaches have to walk the halls looking for players to fill out their team. Our kids all want to play. We don't talk them into it."
But there's another side of it. Lincoln started out 0-3 last year. Campbell wondered what would have happened if he finished 0-10.
"I think I would've been pretty much forced out," Campbell said. "Not forced out by my school board or principal. But by the community. They will never be satisfied with anything but a winner. That's a good and a bad thing about coaching in Lincoln County."
Campbell applied his farming roots from growing up in rural Abbeville, S.C., to earn the right to stay around 35 years.
"We had an advantage at one time because we were one of the first schools in the area and particularly in Class A football to go to all the college coaching clinics and camps," Campbell said. "We were one of only a few coaching staffs in the state at those. We had a weight room at an early stage when there weren't weight rooms at every school.
"We had our quarterbacks going to the Furman (University) passing camp early on. All those things helped us get ahead. But everybody has been doing that the last 10-15 years now. It's made it a lot tougher for us to retain our rate of success."
Campbell went 3-7 his first year and decided he would do whatever he could to give the community a winner. He wanted a career, not to get forced out.
"I looked around and found out what it was going to take to be successful," Campbell said. "We worked our way to the solution. I had a mentor in Thomas Bunch. He was the coach before me. He was a good Christian man that didn't mind rolling up his sleeves. Never would've made it without him. We'd wash clothes and polish shoes. Whatever it took."
Coaching was what he wanted.
"It was the only thing I wanted to be," Campbell said. "I imagined other things. But I never thought seriously of anything else."
There's only one thing about his career he finds unique.
"My records will someday be surpassed by a better football coach," Campbell said. "Somebody will come along and win more games. Or more state titles. The one thing I don't think you'll see again is a head football coach stay at the same school for 35 years. The way this job is won't let that happen anymore."
Welsh, 74, has coached in more games than any head coach in Georgia high school football. He has endured in a different way than Campbell.
He shares the lifelong passion for coaching.
The hard part was just figuring out where. He's moved on to lead a new team seven times.
His first year as a head coach was 1955. He came to Thomson in 1984. He has 298 career wins entering this season. There are 50 years between his first victory and his latest one.
Welsh went 77-16-1 in his first seven seasons at Thomson. But he left in 1990. He didn't find his way back until 1999. His record was a mere 58-33 while he was away.
"Moving around from Thomson cost me 50 wins," Welsh said. "I'd be around win 350 if I'd never left. Once you find success and the right formula, you don't change it. People think they can buy the hot new coach and be a winner. It's not easy to reproduce success. That new school is not going to be the same as the place you left."
Welsh lived out that advice.
"I wish I would've never left," Welsh said. "But I had reasons. I had an agreement I felt other parties were backtracking from. But I didn't make a big deal of it. No dissension. I didn't say bad things in the community. I was just looking around, found something else and thanked everyone before I left. I've never left a school thinking I was not welcome back. I don't burn bridges; because of that I was able to come back to Thomson."
Campbell and Welsh have similarities. Both are at the only high school in their counties. Both have fervent fan bases. They are both at the ideal spot to put roots down.
They also believe in quality assistant coaches. No assistant on either the Lincoln County or Thomson varsity staffs has fewer than 10 years of experience.
"It's important to keep an entire coaching staff intact and not just a head coach," Welsh said. "That's one of the biggest reasons a coach can hold his ground. One coach can only do so much. Three or four good coaches on the same staff make it go a lot smoother. ... If you've got that, then there's your shot at sticking round. Because they will help that team win year in and year out."
Moving on up
Rick Tomberlin could have been a Larry Campbell.
He was a Luther Welsh. Five schools in nine years. Then he brought success to Washington County like the school never had seen. He won 157 games in 14 years in Sandersville, Ga. He has 200 career wins and three state championships.
When the job at Valdosta opened last fall, the school held a nationwide search. The job leading the program that has won 24 state titles and more games than any high school in America was highly coveted.
Valdosta chose Tomberlin.
"I could have stayed at Washington County forever," Tomberlin said in January. "This was just the ultimate opportunity. The only school I would have ever considered leaving Washington County for was this one."
No area coach begrudged him.
"He's getting close to six figures just to coach football," Welsh said. "And at Valdosta. That was everything a coach could want."
Dan Pippin had a similar situation at South Aiken. The program was mired in a losing streak that stretched across three seasons. But he led the team to the playoffs three times after taking the job in 2000. He had earned the right to put down roots. His story is a good example that shows that on-field success isn't the only component to sticking around.
He left South Aiken in February for rival North Augusta. The Yellow Jackets were impressed by Pippin's track record at a rival school. The feeling was mutual.
Pippin was impressed by North Augusta's reputation.
"This is just the ideal situation," Pippin said. "I work with a great principal in Kyle Smith. I work with a great athletics director in Joe Long. North Augusta has great tradition. The other day (former North Carolina State head coach) Dick Sheridan came and spoke to our team. This was just a fantastic place to come coach."
Eric Parker took over the Laney program in 1997 and has coached against 19 men in Richmond County, which has three new coaches this fall. He's seen four coaches at both Hephzibah and Richmond Academy and three each at Cross Creek and Glenn Hills.
"The one thing we've been able to offer at Laney was stability," said Parker, who is the son of a varsity basketball coach. "It's been the same coaches and the same principles in trying to find a way to pull together to restart a down program. Continuity has been a big key."
The other Richmond County schools besides Laney and Westside are 170-346 over the past 10 years. Parker's teams at Laney started out that way. He won four games in his first three seasons leading the Wildcats.
"I don't think my seat ever really got hot," Parker said. "I don't think my job was in trouble. We were able to build things with throwing young starters in there and losing one year by 20 points to a team and maybe seven the next. We showed some progress."
Laney broke out with a 10-2 record in 2000 and is 56-20 since its 4-26 start under Parker.
Parker has survived in a difficult climate:
- He's strictly a football coach. He doesn't have a non-football related job to support his pay.
- Laney has had sub-standard facilities. The grass of his practice field is hardly maintained. He has had to share a stadium. And his team headquarters has only two windows that aren't busted out.
- He doesn't have a middle school feeder program.
- He cannot attract veteran assistant coaches to his staff because his supplement compensation package is not competitive with other areas.
Yet, he's won 10 playoff games since 2000.
"I love to win," Parker said. "When I lose I don't feel any comfort until practice on Monday. I shudder to think I'd be in this profession only putting out what I feel like I get in return. But I have a family to look out for. I get frustrated when I see people make more than my whole staff in the dream jobs when we are playing at the same level and maybe even beating them on Friday night."
Westside is the only other Richmond County team with a playoff win since 2000. The Patriots won a playoff game in 2002. Gerald Barnes, also a 10-year veteran, began coaching at Westside in 1997.
It's supporting evidence to the continuity theory.
Coaching has changed during the past 15 years.
"The first thing a high school coach must accept is he belongs to a transient profession," Parker said. "Coaches constantly move out of the profession. Or to another school in the profession. Most coaches always look around at the first of every year to where they think the grass might be greener on the other side of the fence. Or they may get run off because they're not winning or winning the way the community thinks they ought to."
The pay is substandard. But the burdens levied are extreme. Most mark their own fields. A high percentage even cut the grass.
Usually, only one thing is ever appreciated.
"We live in a 'Got to have it now' society," said Aiken coach Carey Johnson, who is in his 12th year at Aiken. "Everyone wants instant success. Instant respect. Instant everything. Like the Internet. Coaches work a thousand hours for a few pennies. We work all year. Then work summers with no down time. You can't do this half way or it will show up in your program. I can see where one would say this is a dying profession."
The hard truth is coaching is not a hot career. Not even in an area where the state's all-time leading coaches in baseball and football wins reside.
"I won't say it's a dying profession," Silver Bluff coach Al Lown said. "But the one thing I have noticed the last 15 years is there are a lot less people getting into coaching. Used to be I'd have an assistant coach spot and 10 people would want the job. Now I can't find a young coach."
Lown doesn't notice many veteran coaches either.
"I did some figuring and I'm now the elder statesman of Class AA football in South Carolina," Lown said. "I'm 50 years old and this is my 14th year as a head coach. There were a lot older guys than me who'd been coaching for 20, 30 years when I got into this."
Knowing the demands
New Greenbrier coach Scott Chadwick is the son of a football coach. He grew up in locker rooms. He knows the job.
"I can't imagine doing this for 35 years," Chadwick said. "Not the way I do it. The demands of this job are so much different now than when I watched my dad do it back then. Quite honestly, I work a lot harder than my dad did."
Chadwick, 36, can't see himself keeping up his pace. He's in his office until 11 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays and it never lets up.
"I have two younger brothers," he said. "Neither of them coach. They're smart. They're working in business, and both make a lot more money than I do."
That might come across the wrong way without knowing the success he's had. Chadwick won a state title in the largest classification in Maryland. He took over a program that had 10 consecutive losing seasons and won a state title there in his fourth year.
"I probably could've ran for mayor and won," Chadwick said.
But his team played on Saturdays and he lived 40 minutes away from school. So he took a job coaching in the community he lived in. The school won its first playoff game in 17 seasons his second year there and his team played for the state title.
But the numbers he found he cared the most about were 12, 10 and 6. Those are the ages of his three children.
"The quality of life wasn't what I wanted for my family," he said. "The last two or three years this grind has convinced me I can't do this forever," Chadwick said. "We had two seasons where we won 25 games in two years. But I reached a point where I wasn't sure the work was worth the rewards anymore. Part of that is my kids are getting older and I am losing something from their lives with all the time I have to put in."
Teaching life lessons
The area's top coaches don't see their trade dying on the vine.
"There will always be people who enjoy being around young people and athletics going into coaching," Campbell said. "There's not enough money to keep people in coaching for the money. But there will be enough coaching for the right reasons."
Welsh remembers 1960. He took a sales job that summer. Two friends worked at a company and made great commissions. They made so much money they bought and eventually sold the company they worked for.
Those friends are now retired millionaires with beach homes. Welsh is still coaching football.
"I'd probably have a million dollars if I stuck around," he said. "But summer ended and I told the man I worked for that sales wasn't for me. I wanted to coach football more than make a lot of money."
Welsh says 2009 will be his last year. That's the last promise he's made to a former player that he would coach another child through a senior year.
"I care more now about what the kids do when they leave," Welsh said. "I want my players to learn to overcome bad times by building determination and having that fight in them. That's football. That's not a million dollars. But if they learn that in life, that's something that's as important to a young man as a million dollars."
Career twilight has changed his focus quite a bit.
"When I understood that, that's when I became a better football coach," Welsh said. "Getting the chance to do that is why I hang around to coach football."
Reach Jeff Sentell at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The top 10 area coaches in all-time wins:
Coach School Wins
1. Larry Campbell Lincoln County 389
2. Luther Welsh Thomson 298
3. Hubert Morris Wardlaw Academy 243
4. David Berry Blackville-Hilda 210
5. Al Lown Silver Bluff 121
6. Bruce Lane Augusta Christian 112
7. Chuck Wimberly Thomas Jefferson 102
8. Carey Johnson Aiken 95
9. Jim Connor Aquinas 94
10. Chuck Sumner John Hancock Acad. 86
AREA COACHES' EXPERIENCE
3 years or less 11
4 to 7 years 15
7 to 11 years 7
12 to 16 years 7
17 to 21 years 4
22 to 30 years 0
30-plus years 3
NEW FACES, NEW PLACES
A look at the 12 schools with new coaches this fall:
School New Coach
Greenbrier Scott Chadwick
Screven County Pat Collins
Warren County Lee Hutto*
Washington County Joel Ingram*
Richmond Academy Chris Lamb*
North Augusta Dan Pippin
Wagener-Salley Ross Smith*
Glenn Hills Ernest Tolbert*
Cross Creek Scott Tate*
Curtis Baptist Bryan Wilson*
Jefferson Davis Timmy Wilson*
South Aiken Robert Wrightenberry
* Rookie head coach
HOW THE AUGUSTA AREA COMPARES
Augusta, Columbus, Macon, Savannah
New coaches this fall 12, 9, 8, 12
At same school since 2000 12 of 46, 5 of 32, 19 of 62, 5 of 47
MILESTONES UP AHEAD
Several area coaches are approaching milestone victories this season. A look at where they are:
Milestone Coach School W-L Years Possible in '06?
400 wins Larry Campbell Lincoln County 389-68-3 35 Count on it
300 wins Luther Welsh Thomson 298-161-5 41 Unless they cancel the season
250 wins Hubert Morris Wardlaw Academy 243-148-4 36 50/50 chance
125 wins Al Lown Silver Bluff 121-42-0 14 By October
100 wins Carey Johnson Aiken 95-46-0 12 By October
Jim Connor Aquinas 94-75-1 17 Will be close
75 wins Marty Jackson Evans 73-98-0 18 Definitely
Wayne Farmer Allendale-Fairfax 71-56-0 12 Iffy
50 wins Jimmie Lewis Harlem 45-95-2 15 It'll be close
SIX SEASONS AND COUNTING ...
A look at the 12 area head coaches who are still at the school where they worked in 2000:
Record , Years, Coach, School, Since 2000, At School
Gerald Barnes Westside 39-27 10
David Berry Blackville-Hilda 70-11 18
Bert Brown Brentwood 52-25-1 7
Larry Campbell Lincoln County 62-21 34
Carey Johnson Aiken 53-24 12
Rick Knight Midland Valley 25-42 8
Jimmie Lewis Harlem 26-34 13
Al Lown Silver Bluff 57-18 14
Hubert Morris Wardlaw Academy 57-19 10
Eric Parker Laney 56-20 10
Luther Welsh Thomson 62-12 8
Chuck Wimberly Thomas Jefferson Academy 41-30 7
DEVIL OF A TIME
Warren County has had 14 head coaches in the years since region rival Lincoln County promoted Larry Campbell to head coach in 1972. A look at the coaches, with years and records in parentheses:
- Guy Lance (1972-73, 2-17)
- Robert Waller (1974, 4-5-1)
- Bobby Thigpen (1975-76, 10-9-1)
- Dexter Poss (1977-78, 14-4-3)
- Steve Crislip (1979-83, 27-24-1)
- Larry Freeman (1984-88, 38-23-1)
- Bobby Thomas (1989, 9-2)
- Lee Murray (1990-91, 9-11)
- Larry Freeman (1992-98, 29-42)
- Wayne Jones (1999, 1-9)
- Darrell Evans (2000, 2-9)
- Antonio Hill (2000-04, 14-25-2)
- Charles Rutland (2005, 8-4)
- Lee Hutto (2006)