FAIRMONT — Mark Heil, who had been tabbed to become the defensive coordinator at St. Pauls High School, will instead become the head football coach at Fairmont High School on an interim basis, following the resignation of that team’s coach last week.
For Randy Ragland, the call to move back home was too much to resist.
After two seasons as head football coach at Fairmont High School, Ragland resigned last week to accept the same position at Middle Creek in Apex, which announced his hiring on Friday.
“The word I keep coming back to is, bittersweet,” Ragland said during a phone interview Tuesday. “I always live my life with faith, family, and football as my priorities. Family came before football on this one.”
Ragland said his mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease is the main reason for his return to the southwestern Wake County community.
“I just want to be closer so I can help out more,” he said. “It’s kind of a blessing in disguise that this position opened up when it did. I think it’s meant to be.”
Ragland, his wife, Nicki, and his three children, Meredith, Zach and Colby, are familiar with Middle Creek. Ragland was on the Mustangs’ football staff as an assistant coach for five seasons, installing a spread offense that Middle Creek continued to use after his departure in 2010.
“I started my teaching career there and my family is used to the area,” he said. “When I started coaching I got the spread offense started and it’s worked very well. Middle Creek is a 4A football program that’s had a lot of success and I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”
During Ragland’s two seasons at Fairmont, the Golden Tornadoes went 14-10, reaching the playoffs in both seasons but losing in the first round each time. He was named The Robesonian’s Coach of the Year last season.
Ragland succeeds Mike Castellano, who posted a 32-9 record in three seasons at Middle Creek. Castellano resigned last month to accept the head coaching position at Richmond County.
“I had a bunch of good kids (at Fairmont) and I hate to leave them,” Ragland said. “It wasn’t easy. The administration at Fairmont was great and they gave me the tools I needed to be successful. It’s really bittersweet.”
Former Swett coach named replacement
With Ragland’s departure coming a little more than two months before Fairmont’s season opener at Westover, the school wasted little time in naming a replacement.
Mark Heil officially began his tenure as the head man of the Golden Tornadoes on Tuesday, leading summer workouts for the first time. He’ll be the coach on an interim basis for one season.
It’s been a whirlwind year for Heil, who resigned from his position as head coach of Purnell Swett in December before accepting a defensive coordinator job at St. Pauls.
“This opportunity opened up and I just couldn’t pass it up,” said Heil, who posted an 89-70 record in 14 seasons at Purnell Swett. “I’ve been a head coach now for 26 straight years and I don’t know how many years I’ve got left, but just to be a head coach again is great.”
While he’s grateful for the opportunity to lead a program again, Heil said he “felt terrible” about how he left St. Pauls.
“The bad thing is how it transpired for St. Pauls,” he said. “You build a relationship with those kids and see them grow on the field and in the weight room, then, bam, you’re gone.”
Heil inherits a Fairmont program that returns a good core of players from last season, including quarterback Julius Caulder, who was named the county Heisman after passing for 3,257 yards and 32 touchdowns as a sophomore.
“(The players) are excited about the potential this season and in the future,” Heil said. “There are so many athletes here.”
Heil credits his familiarity with the county and Fairmont’s assistant coaches for making the transition as smooth as possible.
“Anytime you have a change, it’s huge for the kids,” he said. “I’ve never had to take over a job this late, so thank goodness for my assistant coaches. They have stepped up in a major way. Plus, me being in the area made the transition a little better for everyone.”
As the Golden Tornadoes prepare for the upcoming season, Heil said he’s excited to watch the progression of his new team.
“Hopefully the kids will believe in me, I’ll believe in them. I’ve always been a player’s coach in every aspect,” Heil said. “I haven’t slept well the last couple of nights, but I think I’ll sleep a little better tonight.”