Coach of the Year: Darryl Free leads Wildcats to third state title

Caleb Turrentine / The Herald Edgewood coach Darryl Free talks to his team during a timeout in the second half of Friday’s win over Lowndes.

Being football coach and boys basketball coach just was not enough for Edgewood’s Darryl Free so he decided to take on even more challenges in his third year with the Wildcats.  Free took over the girls program this season and despite seeing all five starters from last year’s team leave, the Wildcats made a return trip to the AISA-AA quarterfinals under the new coach.

Edgewood (11-14) finished the season below .500 but Free saw plenty of positive signs and he believes the program has a bright future ahead of it. Free is the Elmore County Coach of the Year.

“I never pay attention to record because it really is one game at a time,” Free said. “Win or lose, we try to pick something to learn from it. We try to peak at the right time and set yourself for success at the end of the year.”

The Wildcats finished second in its region and won their first-round playoff game against Hooper despite trailing at halftime. Edgewood lost in the next round to Pickens but Free believes the team took positive steps toward the end of the season and it may not take long before they can push into the Final Four or beyond.

“That’s definitely a possibility,” Free said. “We’re an overall young team and this team has that potential. They have to do a lot of work but they’re capable. I’m excited to see year two in this system and try to generate excitement for girls basketball here.”

Free said the biggest challenge was getting the girls into his system. It was tough enough to have a brand new starting lineup but even the returning players had to get used to a brand-new style of play.

“It was tough at first but we had a great coach and he really pushed us,” Edgewood point guard Lindsey Brown said. “He helped out a lot and we got better.”

After needing just two years to lead the boys team to a state title, Free has set a high standard for himself with this gig. The expectations may be a little bit different for now but Edgewood does not expect it to be long before the girls team takes the next step as long as Free is in charge.

“When we approached him with the job being open, I knew he’d be great at it,” Edgewood headmaster Jay Adams said. “It was just a question of time. We knew if he was willing, we would try to free up as much time as we could for him. He’s the kind of guy that whatever he is doing, it will be done 100%.”

Along with leading both basketball teams, Free is also the football and softball coach as well as the athletic director.

“For him, it’s going to wind up being a remarkable year,” Adams said. “So few people can say they have done what he’s done. As a coach, I know how much goes into those nights so it’s been inspiring to see the way he’s tackled it. There are not many people in the world who will take on that challenge like he has.”

Free said taking charge of the entire basketball program was something he has wanted to do since joining the staff at Edgewood so when it was offered, it was an easy decision. Free wants to continue in both roles as long as the administration allows it and he said the players have a lot to do with that.

“They are all best of friends,” Free said. “I had such a good group of girls this year that made my job so much easier. They had fun and they were focused and they were competitive so they wanted to win.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.