The incoming Fairmont football coach has fielded more calls from reporters and others over the last 48 hours than he did all of the final month of the season at West Johnston.
Ragland spoke with The Robesonian when the dust settled just after dinner Wednesday, his first day as the coach picked to lead the Golden Tornadoes back to a Three Rivers Conference championship.
“You wouldn’t believe how many times my phone has rang since Tuesday,” he said. “I’ve had a busy last couple of days. It’s all happened so fast. I just want to get down to Fairmont and get this thing going.”
Ragland interviewed with Fairmont’s search committee — led by principal Kent Prater and athletic director Michael Baker — on Monday and received a call Tuesday afternoon that he had been selected. The hire was approved later that evening by the school board and the onslaught of congratulatory messages began.
Baker said Ragland was the best fit for Fairmont coming off a disappointing 4-7 that included a playoff ban and brings excitement to the community.
“You’ve got to have fun playing football and I think Randy brings that fun element to our team,” Baker said. “I tell my basketball players all the time that if you’re not having fun, play another sport. Randy seems to be a great leader and when I spoke to all his references, they were very convincing. From beginning to end, it seemed like I was talking to the same person.”
Ragland was a finalist for the Fairmont opening in 2010 that ultimately went to current Scotland assistant Keith Wood. An assistant at Middle Creek at the time, Ragland was offered the West Johnston gig during that same week. Robeson County Athletic Director Jason Suggs was Fairmont’s principal during the interview process and established a working relationship with Ragland.
Ragland was on the short list to fill the vacancy following James Atkinson’s resignation in December.
“I just wanted to call Mr. Suggs and confirm it was still a good job with good kids,” Ragland said. “When it came open again, I remembered how highly Mr. Suggs talked of the school. It kind of stuck with me these last three years and I thought it would be an excellent opportunity. I consider myself a small-town guy and that’s Fairmont.”
Ragland was the starting quarterback at state runner-up Fuquay-Varina in 1985 when the Bengals were a 2A competitor. He’s had football in his blood since, leading the offenses at his alma-mater and Middle Creek before finishing 14-17 in three seasons as head coach at West Johnston.
“I think Randy is a good fit for Fairmont, one that will have success,” Suggs said. “He brings a kid-friendly passing offense that people will enjoy, but most of all, he’s a guy that understands the impact a local community has on a football team. He was one of my favorites (back in 2010).”
Ragland is taking over a program still stinging from a tumultuous season that included multiple ejections for fighting. Two years removed from a 12-1 finish, the Golden Tornadoes’ reign at the top of the Three Rivers ended as did a dominant stretch over in-county rivals Red Springs and St. Pauls.
Ragland won’t meet the players until he arrives at the school in February, but says he’s heard good things about the current makeup of a team that returns 22 seniors. He recently attended a Fairmont basketball game and raved about the athleticism he saw on the floor.
“They’ve got some talent it looks like,” Ragland said. “Everyone I have talked to describes Fairmont’s athletes as quality kids. I know the school had some unfortunate things happen last season, but I don’t think I’ll have to worry about discipline problems. I never have before.”
Baker said Fairmont interviewed many highly-qualified candidates but Ragland’s combination of football knowledge and willingness to interact with the community sealed the deal.
“Being from Fairmont, I know the importance of getting local folks involved with backing your athletic program,” Baker said. “Randy’s from Fuquay-Varina and that was once a very small area. He’s used to that small-town feel and that’s what we needed.”