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Coaching comes down to the children

As anyone that can read a newspaper knows by now, former Screven County head coach Mark Daniel will be joining the Thomson High coaching staff next season. Among many questions being asked on the street is, "Why would Daniel give up a head job for an assistant's job?"

When a head coach leaves a school where he has been successful, that question will always be an obvious and logical one. When he leaves to become an assistant coach, even with a gentleman's agreement of a future promotion, that question will surely drip from every mouth that has even a passing interest in athletics. After all, a promise of promotion for X number of years down the road is a bit presumptuous in any business. That is especially true in the public school coaching business.

Many reasons for this move by Coach Daniel have been well documented. Rejoining longtime mentor Luther Welsh is at the top of the list. There is another major reason that I have inferred just by reading the local Screven County newspaper, The Sylvania Telephone, and by talking with old friends from Screven County.

Coach Daniel led the Gamecocks to a state championship in 2002, but on the way to well-earned hero status something strange happened. A small group of influential people became jealous of the football program's unprecedented success in the large, rural, farming community known as Screven County.

Before going any further let me say this. Coach Daniel did not tell me this. I would never ask a man to spill his guts about a community that I'm sure will always mean a lot to him. A coach with his resume' clearly had many chances to leave for greener pastures, but he chose not to, until now. His players, their parents, coworkers and people in general there obviously mean a lot to him.

I had the privilege of helping call two of Screven County's state playoff victories on the radio in 2002. Seeing the euphoria of the community then would never have led me to believe that there would be a split now concerning the football program. The split started in February 2003 when the school board rightfully awarded the coaching staff one time supplemental bonuses for winning the state championship. In a split vote, the board voted 4-3 to award the bonuses. That's when the trouble started.

The board members on the losing end of that vote didn't take kindly to being in the minority. Some even went as far as stirring up the county's elementary school teachers against the idea of giving high school coaches bonuses. Apparently these people had no clue about the monumental task that the coaching staff had pulled off, or they were just plain jealous of the attention football was receiving.

As time rocked on, the board transitioned from 4-3 in support of football to 4-3 the other way. It came to a head on June 8, 2005 when the school board removed the role of Athletic Director from Daniel. No reason for this was ever provided to the public by the school board. The principal has since assumed the job of athletic director.

In essence, since winning the state championship in 2002, Coach Daniel has been looking over his shoulder while trying to coach football. Coaching is a difficult job with full-fledged support, but when you know the axe will inevitably drop, it becomes an uphill battle that can't be won. A blind man could see that there was a faction "encouraging" Coach Daniel to leave.

Having seen Coach Daniel's teams play, I don't hesitate in saying that Screven County's loss is Thomson's gain. Not only does Coach Daniel bring expertise in the game to the Bulldog table, he will be entrusted by Coach Welsh to do his job in helping operate the offensive side of the ball. In my opinion, the fact that Coach Welsh strongly trusts his former player and assistant is the major positive in this hire.

Coach Welsh allows defensive coordinator John Barnett to handle the defense without messing with him, and I foresee the Daniel arrangement evolving into the same offensively. I also would not assume that this indicates that Coach Welsh is only a year away from retirement.

When I spoke with Coach Daniel, he offered an honest assessment of his decision.

"I have worked hard with the kids in Screven County, and would only accept what appears to be a demotion to join Coach Welsh," he said.

Coach Daniel alluded to his longtime relationship with Coach and Mrs. Welsh and added, "I look forward to being Coach Welsh's partner with full awareness that he is the majority stockholder."

As for the matter of any school board turning what should be a small community's brightest moment into a mockery, I just don't understand. Sure athletics are expensive, but the returns are great.

Personality conflicts happen too, but there is no evidence whatsoever that is what happened with Coach Daniel in Screven County. Football supporters in Screven County wanted to keep a good thing going, but apparently a few people got in the way.

What a shame. The children there deserve better.

Web posted on Thursday, February 16, 2006

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