Any time a coach leaves after 20 years at the helm, it’s a tough job to be his or her predecessor.
Over the last several years, there have been some big name coaches who have stepped down after long tenures.
After the 2015 season, Reeltown Hall of Fame coach Jackie O’Neal announced his retirement after 28 football seasons. In 2018, Benjamin Russell’s Pam Robinson stepped down from her role as volleyball coach after 25 years.
In both cases, their predecessors have filled in very well. Over four seasons, Matt Johnson has led the Rebels to a 30-14 record — and potentially more wins as the playoffs begin next week — and for BRHS, coach Magan Ford has built a ton of success with the Wildcats over the last two years.
Now, another person is going to have big shoes to fill as Dadeville coach Richard White announced his retirement last week.
It took me a while to get in with coach White. He is an old-school football coach; there’s no other way to put it. White doesn’t come across as mean by any means, but he’s clearly just a hard-nosed guy who knows football is physical and gritty and dirty and difficult. But he loves the game, and he loves his players.
You don’t do what coach White did for 20 years as a head coach and 11 prior to that as an assistant unless you have a love for the kids.
Being a high school football coach, especially in Alabama, is one of the toughest jobs you can imagine. These guys put in countless hours between film studies and workouts and spring practice and summer camp and 7-on-7s and player evaluations and meeting with coaches and so on and so forth.
And what a lot of people don’t understand is their livelihood literally is decided by what high school kids do on Friday nights. In some schools and states it’s different, but a lot of places in Alabama have a high expectation for their local football teams. If those teams aren’t performing, the easiest move to make is to get rid of the coach.
In most cases, high school coaches don’t have the same luxury of recruiting and building their teams with the athletes they want like college and pro teams do. The nature of high school football is cyclical, and sometimes a coach isn’t always going to have the same caliber of athletes he did the year before. Sometimes his team is going to face better squads.
But a community is still staring at him and counting on him and expecting him to give all those countless hours for very little pay. So whether White will necessarily go on and on about his love for his players, it’s there, no doubt about it.
And there was definitely a glimmer in his eye when I spoke to him earlier this week about some of his best memories from the last 20 years.
White may have a tough exterior, but he’s like a pineapple. Maybe he’s hard and kinda scaly on the outside, but I’ve discovered while working with him for the last three years, he’s soft and sweet on the inside.
Although the last few years haven’t lived up to White’s expectations, it’s still going to be a big role for anyone who comes in next because not only did White win a lot of games with the Tigers, he also became the face of Dadeville football.
For me personally, hopefully the next coach will be just as tough on me as White was because it forced me to do my job better. Because that man was never afraid to tell me after a tough loss, “Now don’t ask no stupid questions.”
Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor of The Herald.