The McDuffie County school board ended the suspense Monday, tabbing Milan Turner as the next Thomson High School head football coach and athletic director.
Coach Turner answered Superintendent Jim LeBrun's cell phone call from the boardroom and walked through a back door and into a throng of Thomson Bulldogs faithful.
Turner assured the crowd he is ready to follow Luther Welsh.
"You don't replace a coach Welsh," coach Turner said after he was chosen on a unanimous vote of the school board. "He leaves a legacy that will stand."
Coach Turner, who claimed a state championship in 2007 with Emanuel County Institute in Swainsboro, brings an 84.4 percent win record as head coach, with a mark of 65-12.
"Coach Turner believes in scoring points at every opportunity through a multiple set offense and a flex-three defense," Mr. LeBrun said in his introduction. "His philosophy on the field is to 'win with character and cruelty.' "
Coach Turner told school leaders and a crowd of about 25 cheering boosters that he knows the challenge that awaits him.
"It's a great honor to follow a coaching legend like Luther Welsh," he said. "I understand the expectations. I understand the tradition."
Coach Turner also will be athletic director, as coach Welsh was. He said he hopes to be freed from his contract as coach and athletic director in Emanuel County so he can move to Thomson within a few weeks. He hopes to get an early start on football conditioning training and planning summer camps, as well as being athletic director for spring sports.
He said he has some candidates in mind as assistant coaches.
With the coach were his wife, Wendi, their son, Dylan, and daughter Regan, a ninth-grader and cheerleader.
Dylan is a senior at Emanuel, where he starred in football. He has signed to play at Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tenn.
Mr. LeBrun and Principal Rudy Falana selected coach Turner from a field of more than 100 applicants.
Coach Turner called that process very professional.
He holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Georgia Southern University and a specialist degree from Georgia College and State University.
He is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and a certified weightlifting Level 1 coach.
He also has served as assistant coach and head wrestling coach at Screven County High School, assistant football and strength and conditioning coach and head track coach at Southeast Bullock High and Fitzgerald High, and assistant football and strength and conditioning coordinator at Warner Robins High.
Coach Turner said he plans to instill values in his players that will serve them off the field, too. "We've gotta get kids educated," he said. "We've gotta give them character. We've gotta give them opportunities."
He said he welcomes the community's participation.
"You just can't set a value on what a successful program does for a school, does for a community," he said.
Booster Club President Richard Downs said there was suspense in the community as the hiring date approached.
"This guy's got big shoes to fill," he said.
Mr. Downs said the boosters are available to help welcome coach Turner at a meet-the-coach day, if asked.
"I love my Thomson Dogs," Mr. Downs said. "You can't live in McDuffie County and not like football."
Coach Welsh, whose Thomson teams won three state championships, retired after last season. The community gave him a rousing send-off Saturday at the Thomson Depot.