Two years ago, the head coaching position in the Sequatchie Valley was anything but steady.
Sequatchie County was finishing up a stint with famed Marion County coach Ken Colquette who finished 8-13 with the Indians in two seasons. He took over for Chad Barger who resigned in 2012. Nick Bryant left the Grundy County program after never missing the playoffs in six seasons at the helm. His squads could never make a deep run, but he felt it was best to leave the program in another coach’s hands.
Even South Pittsburg’s top-job status had its moments after Grider’s resignation in 2012. Former Marion County head coach and current McCallie defensive coordinator Ricky Ross held the position during the early months of 2013 before resigning. Tim Moore took over, making him the third head coach in less than a year at the prestigious program. Another powerhouse in Signal Mountain was finishing up a 9-3 season by the hands of legendary Bill Price.
The formerly mentioned Ross resided at Marion County, still riding high off of a State Title game appearance just a month and a half prior. Jason Reel finished with a 5-6 record after going 2-8 the prior two seasons. He stepped up into an Athletic Director position.
All of those coaches I just mentioned are now gone. Absence is a feeling that the Valley has grown accustomed to in the prior three years.
There’s absence and then there’s Whitwell. Poor, poor Whitwell. They have a devout fan base that wants nothing more than a special season. A season that can be remembered in lore like the 1991 squad or the Crockett Bowl team.
Up first, it was R.C. Helton and his steadfast, hard-nosed, bad-to-the-bone mentality.
Playoff game. Playoff win. Gone.
With Tracy Malone at the helm next, Whitwell could only rise higher and higher. With a gut-wrenching loss to private 1A powerhouse, Tiger Town had its swagger back until the earth was pulled out from underneath its feet.
What’s that Jim? He’s gone?
And how quickly do they want to forget the one statistic that lingers. The one statistic that every reporter known to man wants to mention: the Tigers will be looking for their 9th head coach in 14 years. Downright heart-breaking.
Still, through it all, Whitwell has continued to compete. They have made the playoffs three years in a row, which is something that neither Sequatchie County nor Grundy County nor Bledsoe County can claim. The Tigers even came within a point of beating South Pittsburg three years ago on Vernon Holtcamp field.
The most interesting aspect of it all, though, is that they’ve done it with two separate coaches at the helm, but with all the talk of coaches, let’s starting giving these players some recognition.
For it was not Helton who signed two scholarships to Cumberland University. That accomplishment belongs to Tyler Tate and Bailey Blaylock. Helton or Malone didn’t drive these teams to the playoffs three years in a row. That was a team effort. And that heartbreaking loss to Columbia Academy in the second round? You guessed it. The players.
Fast forward to the present date and time. Helton is gone. Malone is gone. The program may be in shambles, but the spirits of the players are far from broken.
See, the players at Whitwell know the cold, hard truth. The field where they spill their blood, sweat, and tears every Friday night is not a gridiron. In fact, for the past 14 years, it’s been a graveyard because Vernon Holtcamp is a place where coaches come to die.
So the question remains: who will be the next to raise this program from the dead?