Pirates Athletic Director Tripp Satterwhite believes that the new coach, working at the county’s largest high school and blessed with excellent facilities and support, can take the team to the next level — competing for titles. He considers the Lumberton job Robeson County’s most desirable.
“We want to continue to compete with Richmond and Scotland in the Southeastern Conference and I think that’s possible at Lumberton,” Satterwhite said last week. “We need someone who is both energetic and motivating, someone who will take us to the next level. Mike has done an outstanding job with Lumberton football and we definitely want a coach that continues and even surpasses these seven-, eight-, nine-win seasons.”
The job posting for Lumberton’s football vacancy went live Wednesday morning and by noon Satterwhite had a handful of messages in his inbox. Per policy, he did not reveal who has contacted the school or what candidates are under consideration but says finalists will be chosen by Friday at 5 p.m., the deadline for applications.
The goal is for the new coach to be selected and approved by the school board so he can get to work by Feb. 1, 2013.
“It’s wide open and we’re looking everywhere,” Satterwhite said. “We’ll go through all the names next week and weed out the ones we want and the ones we don’t. It would be great if we started the second semester with a hire.”
Satterwhite leads a search committee that includes Public Schools of Robeson County Athletic Director Jason Suggs, Lumberton High Principal Larry Obeda and several staff members not necessarily tied to football. The Pirates athletic booster club “won’t have an impact” in the hiring process, according to Satterwhite.
“It’s important that we have a panel in place that doesn’t have an agenda and is fair and balanced during the interviewing stage,” Satterwhite said.
In six seasons, Brill, a former South Robeson coach, won 43 games with the Pirates and enjoyed six consecutive trips to the playoffs, a first for the program. Known for their defensive prowess, Brill’s teams got the job done on offense, which was dependant on the infantry.
Lumberton led Robeson County in rushing yards every season during Brill’s tenure, but never had more than 800 passing yards in a season. During the era of the spread, some questioned why the area’s winningest coach continued with the Wing-T, a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust approach.
Brill never wavered, compiled a 23-13 record against teams from Robeson and Cumberland County and won three playoff games. In the top-heavy Southeastern Conference, however, the Pirates were just 9-11 over the last four seasons.
Satterwhite says no specific coaching philosophies — offense or defense — will pull the panel in a particular direction.
“We want someone who can coach both sides of the ball and work with his assistants,” he said. “Like Mike, we need a guy that gets after it. For awhile, Lumberton was a job used as a stepping stone to other places but Mike proved you can come in and have extensive success. We want that again and perhaps something a little more.”
Brill had talked openly that 2012 would be his last at Lumberton, and delivered his resignation shortly after the Pirates’ playoff loss at Jack Britt before Thanksgiving. Satterwhite says the job wasn’t immediately posted because he wanted to give an equal shot to coaches with teams still in the playoffs.
“We want to give everyone a chance to apply for the position,” he said.
The program’s next coach will also continue to oversee the growth of the Lumberton Football Association and Lumberton High’s feeder schools.
“Someone who continues to generate interest for football and interacts with the community would be a great hire,” Satterwhite said.
Red Springs coach George Coltharp seems to be the likeliest fit, though he hasn’t stated publicly whether or not he intends to apply. Coltharp has been Robeson County’s most successful coach since 2011, recording back-to-back 10-win seasons at Red Springs, the first time that has happened at the tiny 1A school in more than two decades.
Before his arrival, the Red Devils had a single playoff victory since 2005, but they’ve won four over the last two years. Offensively, his Air Raid offense puts fans in the seats and would bring an additional spark to the SEC. Coltharp, who lives in Cumberland County, has been on several 4A staffs in Fayetteville and knows what it takes to run a program as a head coach.
Several sources have listed West Bladen coach Joe Salas as a front-runner to the opening, but the former Red Springs assistant and successful head coach at South Johnston is just getting started in Bladen County. His Knights went 0-11 this season, but set several offensive school records and even had a receiver, Malcolm Vaught, surpass a state mark for receiving yards in a single game.
Salas was Coltharp’s offensive coordinator in 2011 for the Red Devils before departing in the spring for West Bladen. Without his offensive-minded assistant, Coltharp took over play-calling duties and had the county’s best passing offense, a unit that averaged 278.5 yards per game. His quarterback, Blake Greene, a leading candidate for the state's 1A Player of the Year, had the third-best individual season for passers, completing 221-of-357 attempts for 3,899 yards and 51 scores.
Scotland High assistant Keith Wood has head coaching experience in the area, accumulating a 19-7 mark with a pair of conference championships in two seasons at Fairmont. A return to Robeson County wouldn’t be out of the question for the Wilmington native, but he says he’s happy where he's at.
St. Pauls offensive coordinator Scott Barbour and Scotland’s Will Clark are the up-and-coming outliers without head coaching experience, longtime assistants with an offense-first mentality. Barbour coached on Richard Bailey’s staff a few years at Jack Britt before joining forces with Trey Sasser at St. Pauls following Bailey’s departure to Scotland. In his first season on the Bulldogs’ sideline, Barbour’s no-huddle averaged 43.4 points and 432.5 yards per contest.
Clark, a Laurinburg native, was a finalist for the Fairmont opening a few years ago when he was on Mark Heil’s Purnell Swett staff as the Rams’ offensive coordinator. He has since developed a slew of skill players into Division I prospects and won a state title at Scotland.