Howard known for taking Spring Garden football to unprecedented success

Jason Howard turned Spring Garden’s football program into a perennial championship contender. Photo by Shannon Fagan.

By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director

NOTE: This is the third of five Q&A features on the Cherokee County Hall of Fame Class of 2024 inductees. The induction ceremony will take place this Saturday at Richard Lindsey Arena beginning at 6 p.m. The ceremony is open to the public and there is no charge for admission. Today’s Hall of Fame focus features former Spring Garden and Cedar Bluff football and basketball coach Jason Howard.

In 20 seasons as a head football coach (18 at Spring Garden), Jason Howard compiled a 134-93 overall record, including a 16-12 mark in the playoffs. Two of those years Howard coached at Ohatchee (2010-11), where he graduated in 1989.

During two terms at Spring Garden (2003-09 and 2012-22), Howard compiled a 129-78 record. Under his guidance, the Panthers posted six 10-win seasons, including five straight region championships. Howard led the program to its only undefeated regular season in 2021 and the most wins in school history (12) in back-to-back seasons (2020 and 2021). The Panthers went 10-2 in 2022, Howard’s final season at Spring Garden.

The football field at Panther Stadium was named in Howard’s honor on Feb. 4, 2022.

Howard also found success on the hardwood as the boys basketball coach at Cedar Bluff (1994-03) and Spring Garden (2004-08). He had an overall basketball record of 215-162, including a 73-53 mark at Spring Garden, which included three area championships and two Final Four appearances.

Howard is currently a basketball and softball assistant at Coosa High School in Rome, Ga.

Q: Who were some of your role models growing up?

A: “I’ve known my whole life really that I wanted to be in coaching. You can go back and look my senior yearbook, when we put it together. My plans were to teach history and coach. It goes all the way back to that. High school, Tim McTaggert had a huge influence on me, but the people who had a real influence on me was when I was at Jacksonville State. I did student coaching the whole time I was coming through Jax State. I had the honor of working under Reagan Clark. Coach Clark probably had the greatest influence on me as a young coach. He helped form my ideas. Also I got to work with a man named Ken Bledsoe. He was at Pleasant Valley at that time and is at Springville now. He had a huge influence on me. I got to work with him for a year also.

“Coach Clark and Coach Bledsoe were opposites but they got the most out of the kids they possibly could. It was an honor to work with Coach Clark at Ohatchee. I have nothing but the highest admiration for him as a young coach. He probably had the greatest influence on me.”

Q: What are some of your basketball memories at Cedar Bluff?

A: “Great time. I loved basketball. I’m helping coach basketball now in Coosa, Ga. When I got into it, I was sort of tagged as a basketball coach and not a football coach. I had the opportunity to get hired at Cedar Bluff and take over that program. We built it up pretty good. We had won several area championships in a row, made a couple of regionals, but the times I had with the kids and everything there, that is such a special community. Looking back on it, the things I remember is just how special those kids were. Johnny Amison was with me all the time. To watch Johnny grow when most people never thought Johnny had a chance to make it, that’s sort of how they felt about me in high school. To help be able to help guide Johnny a little bit and see where he is now, that’s one of my coaching milestones. Torey McDaniel, who’s principal at Cedar Bluff, Barry Rice, all those people came through our program and I was able to coach them. They went back to Cedar Bluff and actually are contributing to that school and community now. I could go on and list so many more. There were so many at that time. My first groups I had were Brad Mason, Jeremy Morrison, Germaine Allen, then Timmy Bradley and Josh Moten on a couple of those last teams, are all super special.

“I can remember Timmy coming up after we had a tough loss one night. About 8:30 that night, I heard a knock on the door. I was sitting on the couch and don’t drink, but ate a lot. We had just gotten beat at Collinsville. I had a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken beside me. I had the tape in watching the game. Timmy knocked on the door. I told him to come in. He didn’t say a word. He sat there on the couch beside me. We got a piece of chicken and we watched the game together. We started breaking the game down. Those are the things you remember more than the games.

“One of the most memorable games I had over there, and working with Coach Lewis over at Coosa, he always throws it out that in my first year we upset Spring Garden. It went triple overtime. We played the last overtime three on five. We outscored then in that last overtime 10-2 to win the ball game. Coach Lewis still gives me a hard time about that. To put things in perspective, I think that was the only time I ever beat Coach Lewis in basketball, but he’s like ‘That may be the only time, but that’s the most embarrassing loss I ever had.’ That game stands out. Beating Cherokee County when Johnny Amison tips it in at the buzzer in the semifinals of the county tournament stands out, seeing the excitement those kids had during that time. That 1997 team, the first team to make it to regionals – Chris Burleson, Tyrone Moore, Torey McDaniel – those are the things I remember. The relationships that I got to build while I was there with those basketball players is just something I’ll never forget. To coach alongside Coach Carpenter, who was coaching the girls’ side, he and I were best friends at that time. I went everywhere with the girls. He went everywhere with the guys. He actually bought a 15-passenger van at that time and we drove all the team around. We had a blast. That coaching staff, that group we had there, was super special to me. Torey came back and was my assistant before he went to Chattooga as the basketball coach. V.L. Crane helped me while I coached there (at Cedar Bluff). It was a real special time for me.”

Q: How different was Cedar Bluff and Spring Garden basketball?

A: “It was completely different. Cedar Bluff really didn’t have a tradition with basketball. Spring Garden, when I took it over, had a huge tradition.

“In doing football and basketball together, I was fortunate enough to have some really good assistant coaches with me on both sides. That first year, that Final Four team we had, Scott Ginn, Kevin Ward, Brian Jennings, all of them helped coach that team. It was just a super special team. Terrill Gamble was one of the main leaders on that team, Matthew Jennings, Josh Humphrey.

“We laugh about Humphrey because Josh came in that summer with hair hanging down in his eyes. Every time he did something, he had to flip his hair. I told him ‘You’re done. Don’t come back until you get a haircut.’ He went and got every bit of his hair cut off and got a complete buzz cut. He came back in the gym later that afternoon. Josh is one of those who is just stubborn enough you had to figure out how to get to him. I figured out the easiest way to get in Josh’s head was through his butt. You sit his butt on the bench and that got his attention. He’s such a competitor and wanted to be out there. I had benched Josh going into the area tournament. I didn’t play him hardly any. I started playing him some in the area tournament again. He’d been a starter all year. Section’s coach, (Ronnie) McCarver, had come to scout us throughout the area tournament. He never saw Josh, never knew what Josh could do. I think Josh hit 9-of-11 3-pointers on them in the regional championship. In the postgame press conference, he said ‘I’ve never seen the kid get on the floor.’ He really hadn’t. He scouted us later when I was mad at Josh, but from the time we re-inserted Josh into the lineup it was just special to watch and see him flourish versus pouting because he got benched. That was special.

“That last group, we had two left over from the Final Four team. Both of them had been ninth graders, Andrew Morris and Cliff Highfield. They pretty much had to tote the team. We had a losing record going into the area tournament. Everybody had written us off. We just got hot at the right time. We go through the area and beat Collinsville, beat Cedar Bluff at Cedar Bluff, and then we beat Skyline in the sub-regional game. Then we went on to Jacksonville. That team got out of Jacksonville with a losing record. We just got hot at the right time. Those are the kinds of teams that are real special to you. By the end of that time, Coach (Damon) McDonald, who had been there before I got there, had some on and was helping me with those teams. We coached them from seventh grade all the way through 12th grade. We weren’t only the head varsity coaches but we were the head junior high coaches. You get to build such a special bond with the kids when you’re able to do that.

“I loved basketball and would’ve loved to have stayed and helped with it and coached all the way through, but football was just starting to take off. The demands to get the football program to the next level I didn’t feel like I could do justice to both. We turned it over and then Coach (Stan) Jones took it and then Coach Rat (Ricky Austin) took it. I came back and actually helped Coach Rat coach it until I left (for Ohatchee). I actually went to Spring Garden with the deal I was going as the football coach and girls assistant. They hired me and Coach Dana (Austin) at the same time. That girls basketball team we helped that first year that I was over there when I was an assistant on that team, that was Coach Rat’s first state championship with the girls. That was a special time. We had fun. There wasn’t a day that we left that Coach Rat, Coach Dana and myself didn’t say we got better today.

“The first practice we had over there, football was over and basketball got started. We were ready to go. We hit the floor and we’re there, then bam, the lights go out. We never missed a beat. The girls never missed a beat. We kept practice going, opened the doors up, practiced with the little light we had and kept going. We got ready to go to the Final Four and knew we were going to play Hazlewood somewhere. They trapped all over. Coach Dana and myself were out there and we’re knocking them around, and they were trying anything they could do to hurt us. They were throwing elbows. They were so mad at us. We went to the Final Four and won that championship. That was a special time. That was the first time I had been able to coach with Rat and Dana. For us to go all the way through and win state that year was really special.”

Q: How much did Bobby Mintz, Steve Smith and Joe Carpenter influence you and the way you coached?

A: “They were a huge influence. Coach Mintz, the first year he was head coach, he was the head football coach there for two years, he really shaped me. In the early time before I got into coaching, once I got into coaching, Coach Mintz was a huge influence on me all the way through. Then I not only had the privilege of working with him as the head football coach and being one of his assistants, but then he stepped up to principal. I have been as fortunate as anybody to work for great administrators. That group of coaches we had at Cedar Bluff we had fun together. Coach Smith and I talk about it all the time. It all goes back to sitting in that little bitty hole in the wall back at Cedar Bluff and then we go into whatever we’re talking about. One who gets left off that staff we had was Dewayne Pierce. Dewayne went on and was a great administrator. Now he’s a great administrator over in Georgia. We had a blast the whole time we were there. Steve was a prankster. He got me on numerous things. Joe was one of my best friends. We all sort of grew up together. I can remember Steve’s first year. We went 2-8. He gets kicked out at Gaston. He got reinstated some way or other at Gaston because the Gaston coach goes and talks them into not throwing him out of the game because it was a blown call. While the Gaston coach is walking the deputies off the field, Steve snaps the ball and runs a fake punt and gets a first down. We go on to beat Gaston off of that play. After the game we got back in the parking lot and Coach Smith was like ‘I’m going to get fired Monday. I can’t believe I did that.’ It’s funny looking back on those things. We just had a blast. Doug Davis came over there later with us and helped coach and then Jonathan McWhorter was an assistant on some of those staffs. I was privileged enough not only to coach with Jonathan but I coached him his first two years in high school. He’s one of the football ones I’m so proud of because of what he did, leaving there and going to Auburn and then coming back to Cedar Bluff. That shows you how special that community is, when those people come back.

“Spring Garden is the same way. People ask me all the time about Spring Garden and teaching. I’m like ‘They’re never going to have any teaching slots open because once people get there they don’t leave. They just love it.’ That’s the way both of those communities are. They’re very similar to each other in that respect.

“We played Parrish in the playoffs in the first round. I think the score at halftime was something like 33-31. We thought we were right in it, and they beat us 77-34. We gave up 77 in a playoff game. The Sumiton game was funny. I was on the headset and Joe was up in the box. We couldn’t stop them. They’re scoring. About halfway through the second quarter, Carpenter just took the headset off, throws them down and puts his head down. I’m going ‘Joe, what defense do you want.’ I’m looking at the calls and we’ve got 150 things on this (wrist) band. ‘Two.’ That didn’t work. ‘Twenty-seven.’ I’m just calling out numbers. Steve comes over and goes ‘Why are we in this defense?’ I said ‘I don’t know Coach. I’ll tell Coach Carpenter and we’ll change it.’ I didn’t want to let Coach Smith know Coach Carpenter had already checked out.

“Finally something happened and we had them in a third-and-8, third-and-9. I just randomly called out a number and it was a goal-line defense. Steve came down the sideline and he’s furious. ‘What’s going on? What are you doing?’ I said ‘Smith, I don’t know what I’m calling. Carpenter hasn’t been on the headset for the past 45 minutes. I’m just making up numbers.’ We had to take a timeout and go out there and put a defense together. It’s stuff like that that was fun. At the time it wasn’t real fun, but looking back we just laugh about it. Coach Smith and I have talked several times and be like ‘Would you believe when we were sitting there going through this at Cedar Bluff that we’d end up here?’

“The year I got named 1A Coach of the Year, Coach Smith did my introduction at the banquet for me. That was pretty special too. That was a super fun time (at Cedar Bluff). I’m still friends with those guys. Coach Mintz I still lean on and ask advice from. He works in the building beside me at Coosa. I still go down and ask him things. He’s still mentoring me today and we’re in our 50s now.”

Q: How hard was it to make the coaching move from Cedar Bluff to Spring Garden?

A: “It killed me. We came in right at the end of school. It had come out that I was leaving. My wall was covered with post-its. I’ve still got a bunch of those with me today. It tore me up to do it. We struggled right there. I questioned a lot of times. I tried to take the philosophy we had at Cedar Bluff and apply it at Spring Garden. We didn’t have those type of athletes. That was a huge learning curve for me. It was a tough transition going from one to the other. What made it a little easier was Coach Rat and I were good friends. Coach (Mike) Welsh and I were good friends. It wasn’t like I didn’t know people there.

“Everybody talks about the wins we had at Spring Garden, people forget I won my first game at Spring Garden and then we lost 17 in a row before we won another game. I’m sure everybody over there at that time is wondering what in the world have we got ourselves in to? It was a young coach making young mistakes looking back on it, not realizing some of the things I did. Coach Jones was great at helping me get through things. He was just a phenomenal person. Coach Jones and I had a history. He’s an Ohatchee person just like I am. His little brother graduated with me. I had known Coach Jones my whole life. When I went over there, he was somebody else I knew I could lean on. You’re hard pressed to find a better man than Coach Jones was. He was so sincere in his heart. He told me ‘You’re going to struggle. You’ve got to accept that.’ I was asking a lot of people ‘Is this the move I need to make?’ I can remember one of the coaches at Cedar Bluff told me ‘I’ll tell you this. If you win three games over there, they’re going to love you forever. You’ve got to put a team on the field. That’s all you’ve got to do. If you ever go 5-5 over there, they’ll have a parade. It’ll be like something you’ve never seen before.’ That came from Doug Davis, who coached over there.

“I actually talked to Coach Smith. There had been rumors a couple of years before that he may come over and take the Cherokee County job. He didn’t. That was leading in to Cole Peace, Josh Moten and that group. I asked Coach Smith ‘Are you ever going to leave Cedar Bluff?’ He said ‘I doubt I will.’ I really thought if Coach Smith left I’d have a chance to get the job at Cedar Bluff. He said ‘I’ll tell you this. I can only ever see myself leaving Cedar Bluff to go to either Gaston or Piedmont High School. Other than that, I don’t think I’ll ever leave.’ About three years later, he did exactly what he told me. He took the Piedmont job. Really, at the time, I never thought those two jobs would come open. Swane Morris was the head coach at Gaston, and then Piedmont, three years went by before he ever made that move. That helped me make the decision to go to Spring Garden. I was super nervous about it, questioning myself about it, but in hindsight, it was the right decision 100 percent. It worked out for everybody.

Q: Was there anything in particular that made you believe you could win at Spring Garden?

A: “I never understood at Spring Garden how you could have the tradition they had in basketball and not be able to transfer it over to football. In my mind, I was like ‘If you’ve got those type of kids in basketball, there’s got to be athletes there. We should be able to win.’ It was the same thing I’d seen first-hand (at Cedar Bluff). Numbers had always been such an issue there. I thought if I could just get the numbers to go with the basketball players, then we’d have a chance. It took about four years before we were able to do it.

“That first group that went to the playoffs I had at Spring Garden – Tyler Messer, Bill Frey and that group – we go to Cedar Bluff when they’re in eighth grade. We get beat by Cedar Bluff 69-0. That was on a Thursday. We come back to school and I can tell they’re beat down. I sit in my office and wrote on a sheet of paper that score. I gave it to every one of them. I said we’re not practicing today. Go home. I gave them that sheet of paper and said ‘Guys, believe in what we’re doing and believe in me. Don’t lose faith in me. I haven’t lost faith in y’all. Just believe in me guys. Take this and put it up somewhere and don’t think about it, but don’t lose it. Before you graduate, I’m going ask for it back.’ I said ‘Something special will happen.’ That group, we go back to Cedar Bluff on their homecoming and we beat them on homecoming. That was the first time we beat Cedar Bluff since the 80s. That group goes on and makes the playoffs, wins the first ever playoff game. On the way back, I go ‘Okay guys, all of you who were on that (69-0 loss) team, bring me that piece of paper back Monday. If you don’t have it, it’s going to be bad.’ All except two still had the piece of paper. It wasn’t bad (for the couple who didn’t have it), but almost all of them brought it back to me. I told them we’d do something special and I told them ‘Y’all just did something you don’t realize how special it was.’

Q: The last five years at Spring Garden, the Panthers were 31-1 in football region games, 10-5 in playoff games, and won five consecutive region titles. Could you talk about some of those teams and players that turned things into respectability?

A: “To me, one of the main things that allowed us to have our success was the fact we didn’t have any turnover. I had the same coaches who were with me and they made me look real good. I had a great staff. They worked their tails off and they stayed there when they had chances to leave. To me, the longevity of the coaches is a direct correlation to the wins and losses. That to me was so critical. We went from being a grind-it-out, Wing-T to we developed athletes where we could spread it out and be more of a multiple offense. We had something so special at Spring Garden in the fact that all of the sports, all of the coaches worked together – boys, girls, everyone. We were all friends. We all pulled for each other and we all shared athletes. Most people don’t realize going through that stretch, all but maybe one or two every year of the basketball team that was doing well played football and played baseball. They were three-sport athletes. That to me is what is at the heart and the essence of Spring Garden. Coach McDonald was with me. Coach Ragsdale was with me. Coach Benefield was with me. Those three had been with me the whole time. Cole Murphy came on and was with me.

“One who goes unsung a little bit because he wasn’t technically on the staff but he helped me so much was Rusty Jacoway. Coach Jacoway would look at films for me and tell me what he thought. Our one agreement was when we played Sand Rock we didn’t talk. He didn’t ask me what my feelings were on it and I didn’t ask him what his feelings were on them. It worked out great. Every week he would come in on Monday morning with me when he did his audits and he’d sit down. He’d break down the film and tell me ‘You’ve got to do something about this right here.’ Coach Jacoway was so great because we were good friends. Coach Jacoway was the perfect assistant because he didn’t care telling me exactly what he thought and what I needed to hear. The rest of them were like ‘I probably don’t need to say that to Howard.’ Coach Jacoway would come up and say ‘That was the dumbest thing you could’ve done Howard. What in the crap were you thinking? Don’t do that ever again.’ He was great for me. I always had such respect for him. When he retired, for him to come in and do that, meant a lot.

“Another one who helped so much was Coach Brian Clowdis. Brian came in as my defensive coordinator and spent a year with me. Then he got out of it and got into administration. He always watched film with me. He always met with me and talked with me. He was the one I could always go in and say ‘I just can’t figure this out.’ He’d look at it and study it and in a day or so, he’d come back and say ‘Have you ever thought about it this way?’ I would be like ‘No I didn’t.’

“Our coaching staff got so engrained in what we did and what we saw in the day-to-day that it almost put blinders on us. To have that fresh perspective with them always coming in and talking to us helped. Having Coach Clowdis and Coach Jacoway just putting their input into it, they’ll never know how much that meant to me. I’ve told them a million times how much it does. That made that run even more special.

“My dad was going through some stuff and was in the hospital. We had our first passing camp of the summer. He got put in the hospital and was doing terrible. I wasn’t going to be there, so I called Coach Jacoway and Coach Clowdis and said ‘Would you run this for me?’ They said ‘Okay.’ We had a new kid who just came in who was a quarterback. I said ‘Tell me what you think about this kid. I’ve talked to Coach Smith. He came from Piedmont. He’s told me a little bit, but y’all just tell me what you think about him.’ That quarterback was Ryley Kirk. They both called me. They said ‘Coach, I don’t know what Steve told you about that Kirk kid, he ain’t ever going to be able to play for you. He may not even be better than your junior high quarterback.’ Ryley had a terrible day that day. He couldn’t do anything right. It was the first day he’d been with us. He didn’t understand the concepts we were doing. I give Coach Jacoway a hard time because we insert Ryley and Ryley wins. We lose at Cedar Bluff when Ryley wasn’t a starter, and then we go all the way to the third round of the playoffs that year before he ever loses a game. He took us all the way to the semifinals. I always give Coach Jacoway a hard time about that. I tell him ‘I’m always going to ask your opinion on everything except the quarterback.’

“Ryley came into a situation where we were returning an all-region, all-county quarterback. Ryley was a Spring Garden person, left and came back. Everybody was wondering ‘He’s a quarterback, you’ve got Luke Ivey at quarterback.’ Luke was the third brother who had been my consecutive quarterbacks – Will, then Ben, then Luke. They had been my quarterbacks ever since I had come back from Ohatchee. I knew Ryley eventually was going to take that spot. I could just see him start to get more comfortable and more comfortable. We go to Cedar Bluff and get beat in the first game of the year. Luke gets hurt and bangs his shoulder up. Ryley comes in and leads us to our only score of the game. I’m thinking at this point ‘Ryley is coming in with a group I’ve got that was super young that year.’ That was when Cooper and Landon and all those guys were a year behind Ryley. I knew I was going to have three more years with him. Do I go ahead and bite the bullet and insert Ryley? I didn’t know how Luke would handle it. I called Luke into my office that Tuesday or Wednesday. I said ‘Luke, I’m going to have to go with Ryley.’ Luke was a senior returning all-county and all-region. Luke looks me dead in the eye and says ‘Coach, that’s the smartest move you can make. He’s a better quarterback than I am. What do I need to do to make us better?’ I have more respect for Luke Ivey than probably any kid I’ve ever coached because of the way he handled it. He could’ve been sour. He could’ve made it a miserable year. I told him ‘Ryley doesn’t understand my talking, how I call things.’ I said ‘I need you to call some plays and when he gets confused, tell him what I want.’ He said ‘Okay.’ He went on and was all-county and all-region at another position that year. I’ll always have a huge amount of respect for him.

“I saw Will, the oldest of them, not too long ago. We were talking and he said ‘Which one of us was best?’ I said ‘Well, you all were different.’ I said ‘I tell you what Will. If the game was ever on the line, I wouldn’t put the ball in anybody’s hands but yours. You were a gamer. You just made things happen in every sport. The best athlete was Ben. The one I probably had the most respect for is Luke.’ People don’t realize that lineage was still going because their first cousin was Chaz Pope. Chaz took over right after Ryley, then Chapel came in and was my quarterback that last year. You take Ryley out of that, we had five in a row who were quarterbacks from the same family. Stuff like that is what makes that type of family and Spring Garden such a special place.

“I could sit here and talk about so many of those players and the things they did and how close I was to them. Cooper Austin, Rat’s like a brother to me. Cooper and Ace and Riley are like my kids. I still text Ace today. I still talk to Cooper all the time. That group that came through in that run was super special. It was just so tight-knit.

“Colby Slayton got killed during that run. They just rallied around Colby and Colby’s family. At that time, I was going through a lot of things. I lost a grandchild. I lost my dad. They rallied and picked me up. That community loses Colby and everybody rallies around them. That stretch we made of those runs is super special, even going back a couple of years before that when we didn’t win the region but we still made good runs in the playoffs. All of those groups, the bonds we share, you just can’t explain it.”

Q: What was Spring Garden’s fan support like?

A: “Huge fan base. Cedar Bluff is a great community with a good fan base. Then you go to Spring Garden and it’s a different type of fan base. Spring Garden, when it comes to sports, is fanatical. You see so many of them who hold the players coming through now to such a high standard. I was on my second generation. Mathias Williams, when he graduated, I coached his dad. I coach him all the way through. I got to coach both of them. It was rolling around to where I was starting to see that second generation come through. The standard that those players who went before them held them to the ones coming up. That’s tough for the kids coming through the program to live up to. When they’re coming off the court and off the field, you’ve got people sitting there going ‘That right there is not what Spring Garden’s about,’ that’s a hard thing to live up to. I’m sure Cherokee County has the same thing. I know Sand Rock has the same thing.

“Cherokee County, the county itself, is such a special place, because all of the communities in the county are so unique in their own ways. The schools are the focal points of every one of those communities. You go to Sand Rock and everything is centered around Sand Rock High School. The same for Cedar Bluff, Gaylesville, Centre. You don’t realize how important that is until you step away from it. This year I got to step away from it and go to Georgia where everything over there is huge. You don’t have that community. Looking back at it, after stepping back, you realize just how special this county is and how the school is the hub in each one of those communities.

“Spring Garden is home. They embraced me. They took me in. I still live there. I still go to everything there. I still talk to Coach Rat, Coach Clowdis, all the coaches there. I still talk to the kids. Ten years from now I’ll still be doing the same thing. Now I get to be the one who holds those kids accountable. I get to be the one who says ‘That ain’t what Spring Garden’s about.’ It truly is a special place.

Q: How does the football field at Spring Garden being dedicated in your honor make you feel?

A: Number one, it made me feel pretty dumb because I was oblivious to the fact it was going on. I’m sitting there going ‘OK, am I such a sucker that you all can lie to me and fool me to what I don’t know what’s going on? My wife, my mom, my best friends, everybody. I didn’t have a clue. When they did it I did not have a clue about it until Mr. (Mike) Welsh got up and started going further. I thought we were just doing a presentation on the region championship. Then I got to thinking ‘OK, something’s up.’ We had done presented the trophy and then he gets up there and I still don’t know and I thought the board is just making a proclamation because of the region (championship), they’re just going to have a day like they do sometimes.

“It was super special. It was special in so many ways. Brian Clowdis put in so much work to get it to happen. Mr. Welsh put in so much work to get it to happen. I can’t thank those two enough. Mr. Welsh was such an integral part and he goes unnoticed in the Spring Garden stuff a lot of times because he was sort of the backbone when we were winning in basketball. We were winning in football. We were state runners-up in baseball. He was the principal who kept all of it aimed. He allowed us to do what it took to get our programs to where they were. To have an administrator who would do that, he’s as good as they come. Coach Clowdis came in and just followed him right up with that.

“Like I said, I have been more than blessed with administrators. Even when I was at Ohatchee with Robin Kines, she was phenomenal. Being with Coach (Brian) Mintz, Mr. Welsh and then Coach Clowdis, I could not have scripted out better administrators to work for.

“The field being named after me is humbling. Under it, it should list Damon McDonald, Tony Benefield, Barrett Ragsdale, all those guys who were with me through it all. We should just name one of the yard lines after them all the way down the field or something and just take the tick marks and put the kids’ names on it. Without them, none of it could’ve happened. I was blessed to have great kids, great assistants who stuck with me, and parents who trusted me. A lot of times that trust was hard. When I was really hard on their kids, as a mom and as a dad, it’s hard to sit back and say ‘Hey, he’s right and you’re wrong’ and tell a kid that when he’s hurting, and to believe in the process we were putting them through. I was fortunate to have all that. That was one of the most special things throughout all of it, to have that legacy and have that stamp put on the field.”

Q: You’re going in with a class that you have ties to all of those members. How special is that?

A: “That’s super special. Right after it came out, it couldn’t be any more fitting than for all of us to go in together. Coach Carpenter and I got hired on the very same night at the very same board meeting. We came into the county. That board meeting, they hired myself, Coach Carpenter, Tracy Johnson who taught at Cedar Bluff until she retired, Jason Shields who was phenomenal and went to a state championship at Centre, all of us came in together. The fact that Joe and I could go in to the Hall of Fame together on the same night is really special. Steve comes in after two years and we’re together for eight years, the fact that you’re going in with such good friends there, and even ties with Rachel. I’ve known Rachel ever since Steve came there. She’s great. I mentioned Doug Davis earlier. One of his daughters is tied in. I couldn’t ask to go in with a better group. It’s beyond all the wins the group has. I’m going in with some of my best friends. That makes it more special than anything.”

Q: What would you like to say to the Hall of Fame audience?

A: I’m humbled. In my mind, I really don’t deserve this. I was fortunate to work with great people and have great kids who made me look good. The wins and losses to me are on the back burner. The relationships that I got to build with other coaches in this county, with the people in this county, the other schools in this county, are things that will last more than any of the sports moments. I just want to thank everybody in Cherokee County and for what it is and for bestowing on me such an honor.”

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