You might remember the stories about the imminent retirement of my old head coach, Spence McCracken, which broke last spring. Officially, his career apparently ended on Friday, as top-ranked Prattville hammered the 'Dawgs at Stanley-Jensen Stadium in the second round of the AHSAA playoffs. I was at the game, and I can say two things about it:
• Opelika hasn't been dominated like that once since coach McCracken took over, not even in his first season when we had 45 players on the entire roster and most of them were average at best.
• At their best, our guys are probably 14 points behind Prattville. They weren't at their best Friday, by any means, but probably wouldn't have won the game under any normal circumstances.
The focus now shifts to hiring 'Crack's replacement — Coach, for his part, insisted in today's paper that he's not retiring, but that he's definitely done as head coach at OHS.
“I just want to reiterate that I’m not retiring. I might coach again, I might not. I’m just keeping my options open right now.The identity of that next head coach is arguably the most popular topic in the city right now. The heir apparent for the job all along has been offensive coordinator Brian Blackmon, who's served on the staff at OHS since (I think) 1996, has a younger brother who's already bolted for a head-coaching job (Ben, at 5A Greenville) and played for 'Crack at Lee (even caught a TD pass in one of those infamous playoff losses to 'Crack's Lee High teams back in the early 1990s). The prevailing wisdom has always been that Brian wouldn't have stayed an assistant this long, unless he believed he'd have first crack at the job when the old man called it quits.
“When I originally announced the thing about retirement, I knew that I had done everything I could do at Opelika and that I couldn’t possible accomplish more. I felt it was time for some new blood and a change.
“But for now, I still plan on working for (school superintendent) Mark Neighbors and (principal) Stan Cox for the next couple of years, and I’m looking forward to working with the kids in the spring and summer and doing whatever I can to lend assistance to the next coach at Opelika.”
(Here comes the part where I admit my bias on this subject: I played for Brian three years, have a huge amount of respect for him as a person and as a coach and would love to see him get the opportunity. I'm almost 10 years removed from that and have a little perspective. I hope. We'll see.)
Naturally, the opening has been the subject of much interest. One person with sources — and a huge affinity for exaggeration — claims applications have come in "from all over the country." The hottest name in the whole deal belongs to Al Borges, the former AU offensive coordinator who apparently never went anywhere after being canned in late 2007. He's been spotted at multiple Opelika games this fall, and conventional wisdom suggests he's interested in the head coaching job or a position on the staff. Some other high-profile names are bound to surface as well, though I couldn't even begin to speculate on which ones they'll be.
As the season wound to its home stretch, a fervent anti-Blackmon movement appeared to emerge on the al.com 6A football forums (I say "apparent" because Internet forums are fairly easy to manipulate — three or four people can post continuously and appear to represent an entire community, when they're actually just representing their own conclave with an axe to grind). Brian isn't a good play-caller, the posters say (they might have a case); the kids on the team don't respect him (I find that hard to believe); giving the HC job to him would be a huge mistake (an interesting argument).
I have no idea what kind of head coach he'll make. I can tell you with some certainty that he'll have a head coaching job somewhere next season, at Opelika or otherwise. I can tell you that Oxford High was prepared to offer its head-coaching job to him in the winter of last year had John Grass not left Spain Park. And I can tell you that there will be a sizeable portion of the community that won't be happy if Blackmon doesn't get the job.
Here's the thing, though: the search committee has to hire the best person, regardless. Being a high-school head coach is less about play-calling and rings, and more about building character in young kids, giving them direction in life and shaping them as better citizens for the future. And if you think Brian Blackmon is the guy who's going to do that better than anybody else, then give him the job. If somebody else looks like a better fit to accomplish that, then give it to that person. Ignore the negative response from the community; odds are those people will get over it eventually (as we learned with the Alabama situation — I doubt those people who were howling about Mike Shula's raw deal care that much about him anymore).
Anyway, that's my take on it. I want the absolute best for the kids in Opelika; a big part of me I owe to my four years as part of the program there. And I hope that's what they get.
So, as always, God bless Opelika, and God bless those 'Dawgs.