Fairmont High Athletic Director Michael Baker says his committee would like to start its search for the school’s next football coach “as fast as possible” and make a selection before spring workouts begin. Baker is balancing football matters and coaching duties with the boys basketball team over the next few weeks.
He says this next hire could be the most crucial to date during his time as athletic director.
“We need to get moving on this so our (football) players aren’t far behind in the spring,” Baker said. “There are always various factors that come into play like the school board’s time schedule, but we hope to have a new coach approved by February.”
Baker says it's important for Fairmont’s new coach to bring stability to a program going on its third hire in four years. The Golden Tornadoes, who return 22 seniors next season including quarterback Jarrod Neal and dual running backs Derrick Baker and Quinton Walker, are looking to get back to contending for conference titles at a school heavy on talent. Fairmont won or shared league championships in 2009, 2010 and 2011 and went 24-21 during that stretch.
Next fall, the split 1A/2A Three Rivers Conference expands to eight teams with the additions of South Columbus and Whiteville. A winning mentality isn’t the only marketable trait for applicants however.
“We’re looking for someone who will stand out in our small community and get involved,” Baker said. “We’ve got some pretty good kids and we need someone who acts as their leader. I can’t stress the emphasis on the community enough.”
Facing pressure from the administration, James Atkinson resigned last month following a tumultuous 4-7 first season that included a postseason ban from the NCHSAA. The Golden Tornadoes lost their last four games by an average of 31.5 points but Baker said the decision to move forward with a new face had nothing to do with on-field performance.
“We just decided to go in a different direction,” he said. “If you bring in the right person, you don’t have to worry about the following season being challenging on the players. There’s always an adjustment period with a new coach but it’s up to myself, Kent (Prater) and others to choose the right fit for our community.”
Atkinson says he's keeping his options open and believes Fairmont's next coach should have strong local ties.
"We had some major philosophical differences for the direction of the program," Atkinson said. "I felt like we were headed in the right direction and getting ready to make a turn with the pieces that are there. They told me they felt the same way but wanted someone different. Like I told the kids throughout the season and a few weeks ago, they're going to be fine next year no matter who coaches the team.
"The head coach acts as the director. The kids make the plays."
Public Schools of Robeson County Athletic Director Jason Suggs served as Fairmont’s principal for three years prior to moving to central office and says he has confidence in Fairmont’s search. Suggs is out of town this week at a conference in San Antonio but spoke with The Robesonian on Monday. “
I leave the final decision up to the school, but I do give them a list of who I think are the best candidates,” he said. “I’d like to see a guy who keeps the students and community involved with his program.”
Lumberton High Athletic Director Tripp Satterwhite confirmed over the weekend that the school has trimmed its list of 30 applicants down to eight finalists to replace Mike Brill as the Pirates’ head football coach.
“We feel like we have eight quality guys that would all be good choices,” he said.
Like the Fairmont situation, Satterwhite would like to have a coach in place by the start of off-season workouts during the spring semester. Each of Lumberton’s eight finalists will be interviewed soon.
Reach Staff writer Brad Crawford at 910-272-6119 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at MrPalmettoSDS.