Clayton AD Bob Brannon heads off to retirement

Those school bells ringing throughout the halls around Clayton County signified something really big Friday--the end of the academic year and the start of a two-month summer vacation.

It also meant something else. The end of an era as Clayton County Athletic Director Bob Brannon walked out of his office at Tara Stadium for the last time and headed into retirement.

For Brannon, it was the official end of a career in education that started in the 1960s and spanned part of five decades.

The former college basketball player wore many hats as his career took him down the educational path.

Brannon started out as an English teacher, served as a boys basketball coach, worked as a guidance counselor, assistant principal and principal before moving back into athletics more than a decade ago when he assumed the AD role for a district that now has nine high schools and 15 middle schools.

Whatever the role Brannon played, he says he just tried to be a guiding force in the lives of the young people he came in contact with.

He made many friends and admirers along the way.

One of his closest friends still is former Atlanta Hawk Mike Glenn. Brannon coached the sharp-shootng guard in high school when the two were at Coosa.

"He had a way of bringing out the best in all of us," Glenn said. "He made us realize a small school in north Georgia, known more for football, could compete for a state title in basketball against the schools in Atlanta, Savannah and Macon."

Coosa did just that, finishing the 1974 season as the state runner up.

"He demanded greatness. He was a big guy but he could be gentle, too," Glenn remembers.

The two had a close relationship then and now. Brannon named his first born son Mike after Glenn, even though the future pro was just a sophomore in high school.

"That was very unique," Glenn said. "This was a small Georgia town, not too far removed from segregation back in the early 1970s and he thought enough of me to do something like that. I have never forgotten that."

Glenn, who went on to Southern Illinois, before a decade long NBA career, has worked in business, television broadcasting with the Hawks, and with the hearing-impaired, running a basketball camp for deaf children.

Recently Glenn was honored by the Atlanta Tip-off club for his contributions to the deaf, and it was Brannon who gave the talk.

Although Brannon eventually got out of coaching for a career as a school administrator, Glenn has always kept what he learned from his high school coach close to his heart.

"His pre-game rituals were always the same," Glenn said. "He wanted us to stay focused on the game. That meant he didn't want a lot of talking or cutting up on the bus. I took a lot of that to college and even into the pros.

Lovejoy football coach Al Hughes first met Brannon when the two coached at Jonesboro back in the 1980s. At the time, Hughes was the football and wrestling coach, and Brannon was the Cardinals' basketball coach.

Hughes later worked for Brannon at Lovejoy when Brannon was principal at the high school.

"He has made great contributions," Al Hughes said. "He's terrific at motivating people. Clayton County athletics has moved forward under his leadership."

Steve Hughes, Al's brother, who is now the principal at Kendrick Middle School, first played basketball for Brannon after he was called up from the junior varsity to the varsity when he was a sophomore at Jonesboro.

"He gave me the opportunity to play," Steve said. "I was grateful for that chance."

For Brannon, an interest in coaching and teaching began when he was a student at LaFayette High School, a community tucked away in the north Georgia mountains.

All these years later, Brannob still gives credit to Reid Mosley, his former coach who inspired him to enter the profession.

"He was my role model, and I played everything like most kids did in those days," Brannon said.

Brannon might have been a better football player, but it was basketball, his true passion, that won out when it came time to pick a sport to play in college.

So after graduation in the mid 1950s, Brannon became a Bulldog when he headed to the University of Georgia on a basketball scholarship.

It wasn't a great experience for the future educator.

"Georgia played in a rat infested building called Woodruff Hall back then," Brannon said. "You could actually see the stars in a night game.

After arriving in Athens, Brannon realized he was not ready to play in the SEC. So he put college on the back burner for a while and headed off to the Air Force.

It didn't mean a sabbatical from athletics for the multi-talented athlete.

Although he was stationed in Madrid as a military police officer, Brannon spent most of his time playing sports on Air Force teams.

"I played a whole lot of sports back then," he said. It was a four-year vacation with Uncle Sam. "We had a league called the Spain-Northern Moroccan league, and that's where I really developed my basketball skills," he said.

Once he got in the service, he also buckled on the chin strap again and played more football.

Both his football and basketball teams came close to winning league titles, finishing second in both sports one season.

"We were great bridesmaids," he said. "We just could never win the big game."

When his service to his country ended, Brannon was ready for college again.

He nearly headed back to the gridiron after he was offered a scholarship to Florence State University (now North Alabama), but fate changed those plans and he was able to purse his first love of basketball at Berry College in Rome.

"I had three very successful years there. I still have the single game rebounding record at Berry College, (33) ," he said.

Brannon learned plenty about the coaching business from long-time Dalton High School football coach Bill Chappell, the school where Brannon did his student teaching. Chappell coached at Dalton from 1964-96 and posted a 316-74-9 record. Some of those talks with the highly successful Chappell helped convince Brannon he was on the right career path.

When it came time for his first teaching position, Brannon landed at Coosa High School.

"I lucked out because they needed an English teacher and a basketball coach," he said.

Brannon happened to be both.

It was at Coosa where he had his most basketball success.

"I road Mike's (Glenn's) coat tails and we had some really good seasons," Brannon said.

Soon after Glenn left Coosa, Brannon was gone too, headed to Clayton County to become Jonesboro's new basketball coach and start his long tenure with the school system.

"I had to help coach other sports at Coosa," he said. "When I went to Jonesboro, all I had to do was coach basketball and teach English."

Little did Brannon know back then, but his time as Jonesboro's boys basketball coach was just the beginning of his relationship with the county school system that lasted part of four decades.

"I went to work for (former Jonesboro principal Fred Smith) and we had moderate success at Jonesboro," Brannon said of his year's coaching the Cardinals from 1974-81.

Steve Hughes remembers how it was a package deal at Jonesboro. Brannon's wife Mary Anne taught English at the school too.

"We called her mama Brannon," Steve Hughes said. "She kept us grounded and on the right path."

Brannon then went into school administration, serving as a counselor for eight years, then an assistant principal for a short stint, before leading his own schools. Brannon first served as principal of Riverdale Middle School for one year, and then took over at Lovejoy High School, a place he stayed from 1994-98.

"He was a great leader," Al Hughes said of Brannon's days as Lovejoy's principal. "He let his teachers teach, and his coaches coach, but he always kept on top of what was going on."

Around d 1999, he became Clayton County's AD. He was just the second county athletic director ever, taking over for Bayward McManus.

"We have been really blessed to have two men leading our county athletic department," Steve Hughes said. "Bob cared about the students-athletes and made sure they were taken care of. He also made sure they were recognized for their achievements in the class room."

Brannon has watched the Clayton County population explode in the past decade, but never lost his passion for the job.

His role as county AD included scheduling events, seeing to it maintenance workers kept the three stadiums in shape, scheduling transportation and buying equipment for both middle and high schools.

He also had to make sure every school was in compliance with title IX, a bill which ensures that nobody is excluded from participation in sports based on their gender.

One of the things Brannon is most proud of is the start of high school and middle school girls volleyball programs nearly a decade ago.

"When we began volleyball we weren't really competitive, now we are holding our own," he said.

Part of the veteran educator's role has also been serving as a peacemaker and sounding board to upset parents.

Those skills were needed in 2008 when the Clayton County School District lost its accreditation

Although some athletes bolted from the county, many stayed right here, bringing plenty of success and pride to the county with runs at the state tournaments and scholarship signings and other achievements.

"We stayed the course, and we have recovered," he said. "The first thing we did was check with colleges to make sure athletes could still get in school. We quickly found out, if they were good enough and had the grades, they could be recruited."

How does Brannon plan on spending his retirement? With his wife of 44 years Mary Anne, and with his son Mike, a Morrow graduate, and daughter Kelli, who got her high school diploma at Riverdale.

Both son and daughter also became teachers.

He also is looking forward to watching the growing athletic careers of his four grandchildren, all boys.

But don't expect Brannon to spend everyday of his retirement on the golf course. He wants to stay busy in other ways and that means continuing to give back to Clayton County.

"Clayton County has been very good to me, my kids graduated from here, and I still want to help out in anyway I can. Hopefully, I will be able to do just that."