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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