Former Tucker coach Stephens: ‘I didn’t coach for the limelight’

One of the more surprising events of the offseason was the decision of Franklin Stephens to leave Class AAAA powerhouse Tucker – where he had won two state championships in his five seasons – for Lamar County, a rural Class AA school in middle Georgia.

Stephens says there was no one reason for his decision to head for the country. He expressed gratitude for his opportunity to coach Tucker – he was 64-6 in five seasons – but also conceded what many knew, that he was attracted to a school that had its own stadium in a school system that allowed the athletics program to keep revenue from home games. In DeKalb County, schools give up gate revenue to be redistributed among DeKalb’s 19 football-playing high schools.

But Stephens said his move was precipitated by what he was getting, not what he was leaving behind. Lamar County, ranked No. 5 in Class AA, opens at Spalding tonight.

Todd Holcomb caught up with Stephens on Thursday and asked him five questions.

Don’t you miss the big time? “Tucker is a more high-profile job than Lamar County. We were constantly in the media and on TV a couple of times. We had college coaches coming in. That was exciting. But I really don’t need that. I made the decision knowing we were giving up all that. I didn’t coach for the limelight. I was able to walk away from it. I’m more happy to have what I have now.”

What’s Lamar County like? “It’s similar to Burke County where I grew up, a rural area. And I do like that it’s a slower environment now for my kids. I’m only two minutes away from my son’s school, three minutes from my daughter. We have our own stadium with that community crowd, where you’re the only show in town on a Friday night.”

What do you like about the football program? “The administration is great. I’m very familiar with the principal [Derick Austin, his former Georgia Southern football teammate]. I knew he was a big supporter of athletics. I knew the community was. I also like that you can get control of the middle school here. There, the kids in middle school might not come to Tucker, whereas I’m pretty sure they’re coming to Lamar County High School in Lamar County. I can have relationships with the kids not just in middle school, but elementary school.”

How does the team look? “When change happens, it can go in different ways. They’d had some success. Coach [Jason] Strickland had put some things in order [12-1 finish in 2011], and they had a great season last year. There were hurt feelings when he left [for the Fitzgerald job]. In the minds of teenagers, they think, ‘Why do we have to change?’ When I got here, there was a lot of change. The intensity level went higher. They’re not used to that. We’re still chipping away, trying to get them to believe in what we’re doing.”

What do you miss about Tucker? “I miss the people. We had surrogate grandparents to our kids. I miss pregame meals from Matthews Cafe. I loved their fried chicken. One thing that almost kept me there was the relationship we had with our church, New Mercies. Any time you can find a great church that you’re excited about, that’s hard to leave. We made great friends.”

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26 comments Add your comment

Old Gold Panther

August 31st, 2012
7:19 am

Good Write up. Dekalb County should be ashamed. He will be missed. Good Luck Coach!!

CrunkATL

August 31st, 2012
7:49 am

Coach Stephens is So Correct, Dekalb County has the most talented Athletes in the states especially in Football and The programs do not get the support like they should. Long gone are the days of the Old 7AAAA. Sure there is MLK and Stephenson but. More is deserved. Lack of community now days in Dekalb County!

Max Sizemore

August 31st, 2012
9:08 am

Yep, the Matthews Cafeteria. Better food you will not find. Everybody in Tucker knows that.

Northside Dawg

August 31st, 2012
9:38 am

I think the veggies are the best thing at Matthews. Sometimes their sweet tea is a bit inconsistent.

Leftfor money

August 31st, 2012
9:56 am

He left for more money. Plain and simple, and who could blame him?

ALL TUCKERRED UP

August 31st, 2012
10:19 am

I wish the coach well !!! We now have a new tradition starting with Coach Lamar.
He has already started. Good luck !!!!

eaglenationrising

August 31st, 2012
1:11 pm

I appreciate the good folks at GHSFDaily for writing this article. I am begging anyone with information to let us all know what “really” happened at Tucker HS. I have to give it to Coach Stephens. He is a class act and says all of the right things. However, this is Tucker HS. They should be building a statue for this guy. Instead, he leaves for Lamar County. Give me a break!

Jobs like Tift County, East Paulding and other opened this year. Clearly, he was not on the market. Otherwise, Tift County would have interviewed him (especially with his ties to Camden County that is about to OWN South Georgia’s Region 1). If it was money, what happened? If it was leadership, we want the scoop. This man is one of the best high school coaches in the nation. Now, he is in Lamar County. Go to Lamar County. You will see why this entire story is hard to believe. This man just won his second state championship in a place known for choking and he is working in Lamar County. It does not make logical sense. He has moved to Siberia in the world of HS football. WHAT HAPPENED????

eaglenationrising

August 31st, 2012
1:15 pm

@ ALLTUCKERED UP: Coach Lamar is not going to do anything except wash dishes for our Northside Eagles! Frank Stephens sideline work in that semifinal game was some of the best that I have ever seen. I am not from DeKalb County. I was raised in Warner Robins with coaching legends like Robert Davis (2 National Championships) and Conrad Nix (2 State Championships). We play the likes of Lowndes County, Valdosta & Camden County with regularity. To pretend that Frank Stephens is just another coach and he will not be sorely missed is completely dishonest and disingenuous.

His use of the clock…faking going for 4th down and the pooch punt was pure mastery of his craft. That man is not your typical DeKalb County high school football coach. Look, the new coach may become special. However, it is disingenuous to pretend that life is the same with or without Coach Stephens. GET REAL!

RAIDER FAN

August 31st, 2012
2:43 pm

I’m sure Coach Stephens will enjoy life in Lamar co. I grew up in Griffin and spent a lot of time down in Lamar co. Sometimes think about moving back down there myself to a speck of a town called Milner. Like Stephens said,”slower environment”, and you tend to know most of your neighbors by name. Good luck to him.

Bizarro

August 31st, 2012
3:33 pm

The one thing I find amazing about this article is there is no mention of the other COACHES that he assembled on his staff and NO RECOGNITION of the work and demand he put them through! Eaglenationrising I agree the clock management was great but I’ve seen other do the same at all levels. Again I’m shocked that he gives no acknowledgement to his staff for HELPING; BEING A PART OF; Sacrificing their own families for the cause of winning TITLES. HE won’t say it but I will; GUYS GREAT JOB FOR THE TITLES YOU ALL HELP HIM ACHIEVE and FOR THE KIDS THAT WILL REMEMBER FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES!!!!!! One person doesn’t win any Titles at ANY LEVEL OF competition. It takes many from Players; Coaches; Wifes; Administration; Community and Hard work and organization!!!

WarEagle

August 31st, 2012
4:46 pm

Class act. Lots of respect from the Marist community for Coach Stephens and the program he helped build.

Dekalb Watcher

August 31st, 2012
5:10 pm

@Bizarro I can tell you have NEVER watched the news in Atlanta. Coach Stephens DID give ALL credit to his Coaches and the Tucker Community, this was said on TV. We all know that they all work 80 to 100 hours a week, and everyone missed a lot of time with Family, it happens to a lot of Top Coaching Staffs. I don’t know what you were looking for, but I DON’T see where Coach Stephens said he did it all by himself. Does anyone else see that, or got that from this article?

5AReg6Fan

August 31st, 2012
5:25 pm

Coach Stephens leaving Tucker was about two things 1) the MONEY and 2) the small town lifestyle. I’ve said it before, in other post, Coach Stephens was looking for the slower pace lifestyle that smaller communities bring. I would agree with ENR, what he did in the 5 years at Tucker, you would expect him to have made a change to a larger program. We Tucker fans thank Coach Stephens for his time at THS, but again, Tucker was a winning program before him and will be a winning program after him. It is time for a NEW tradition/era and Coach Lamar is currently on track…his first year record could very well equal Coach Stephens (13-1).

@ALL TUCKERRED UP – DITTO my man!!!

@Bizarro – Excellent points!!!

“WE ARE TUCKER”

REGION 6, the best in GA 2012 5A Football……

eaglenationrising

August 31st, 2012
5:57 pm

Thanks 5AReg6Fan. I appreciate the honest evaluation. I was getting a little tired of the rehearsed answers. Now, if it is about money, there must be a problem at Tucker HS and within the DeKalb system. I am a little lost as to how Lamar County could pay him so much more. We have to take Coach Stephens at his word. However, my guess is that he will be somewhere else soon. Lamar County does not seem like a destination job. If he were at Griffin, Tift County, Ware County, Bradwell, Perry, or a myriad of other small town schools, I could believe it. Lamar County? I have been there and without disrespecting the earlier poster (who is thinking abuot moving there) I just do not see it as a place that anyone would like to live. I looked at the numbers in their school system. I would NEVER move my kids down there.

Hubert Green

August 31st, 2012
6:24 pm

I know all about the DeKalb way of running athletics. Many great coaches have left DeKalb County for a better situation. One thing he won’t have at Lamar is the guy who has funnelled all those players into the Tucker football feeder (Pop Warner) program year after year after year.

Dekalb Watcher

August 31st, 2012
6:47 pm

@Eaglenationrising You should have known by now that Dekalb lacks so much when it comes to Football. No coach, and I mean NO coach in Dekalb will EVER make Six figures! That is due in part to how they take ALL the money, and use it as they see fit. Coach Stephens is making about 20,000 more at Lamar County. You have not seen the Facilities they have also, Turf, and Stadium all new a few years ago. You didn’t know that a lot of smaller school pay so much more than Dekalb? Keep in mind that Stephens also has a Phd, and actually taught classes. Also he applied for a lot of jobs, Valdosta (after 1st title-they hired Gillespie), Ware County (they hired Dudley), Thompson (applied last year before second title), and Coffee County this year but they hired Pruitt. He was going to stay at Tucker this year, but when Strickland left for Fitzgerald (did not apply for Fitz btw), his former GSU teammate now Principal at Lamar County called him, and you know the rest.

Dekalb Watcher

August 31st, 2012
6:54 pm

You can look at it this way, despite all the success he has had, no one wanted him. Lamar County accepted him after they found themselves looking for a coach unexpectedly. They wanted to continue to have success and win a championship, looks like things have worked out in the end.

THSalumniclassof92

August 31st, 2012
9:51 pm

He was overlooked for the top tier jobs due to his skin color, there is an article where coach Herron of Camden County asked the schools where he interviewed why didnt they choose him, and it was told to him that they were not ready for that type of change. I will post the link to the article once i locate it.

THSalumniclassof92

August 31st, 2012
9:55 pm

A more in depth reason why Coach Stephens left Tucker. It includes Coach Herrons comments as well.

http://www.macon.com/2012/08/25/2149933/back-to-his-roots-franklin-stephens.htmls here

THSalumniclassof92

August 31st, 2012
9:58 pm

67tiger

August 31st, 2012
10:29 pm

@eaglenationrising

who didn't see that coming

September 2nd, 2012
10:08 am

Why is it that everytime something of this matter always has to have someone drag race into the issue. Some people need to start taking things at face value and stop worrying about the color of that face. The coach told you his reasons, that should be good enough for anyone. Good luck to coach Stephens with his future. That’s all I have to say on the matter.

THSalumniclassof92

September 3rd, 2012
12:23 pm

Re: Who didn’t see that coming – This is an excerpt from the article i mentioned above -

” Stephens’ mentor and Camden County head coach Jeff Herron, who is white, said he believes a white coach with Stephens’ résumé would have landed one of the most prominent jobs around the state.

Herron, who has won four state championships and is one of the most respected coaches in the state, vouched hard for Stephens any time a school asked about him. Herron heard from the hiring committee at one school following Stephens’ interview. Herron said he was assured Stephens would get the job. The school board met, and it changed course.

“Was that what happened (with race playing a role)?” asked Herron, who declined to name the school in question. “I think so. They made a stupid decision. Frank doesn’t see color. He sees people who work hard and don’t work hard. There’s no middle ground.”

Other black coaches were discouraged by Stephens’ inability to land jobs in the rural parts of the state, according to Central head coach Jesse Hicks.

“You have a guy with a doctorate in education,” Hicks said. “He won as a high school player and was an All-American at Georgia Southern. He was great at Camden County and wins the first two titles at Tucker. He sends kids to school, runs a first-class program, is a family man and is a man of God. And he can’t get a job in south Georgia? What else does he need to do? What other conclusions can you draw other than people are still colorstruck in some parts of this state.”

johnny too good

September 3rd, 2012
1:11 pm

@whodidn’tseethatcoming …. read the article and you’ll see why the “race card” was played

Coach Stephens’ has an excellent resume and body of work, he shouldnt be out asking for jobs, principals and ADs should be at his doorstep asking him to coach for their school

JAB

September 30th, 2012
10:42 am

CONGRATULATION COACH STEPHENS…
:)

TY

October 2nd, 2012
4:26 am

How many black coaches are in Gwinnette County as Head coaches? The south Georgia thing is not a race issue it is a good ole boy issur.