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STOVALL: Changing of the guard

Gabriel Stovall

Gabriel Stovall

It’s inevitable. Frequent coaching changes will happen.

That's because coaching longevity is not defined as it once was. The days of a head coach spending 10, 15 and even 20 years at one school is now perhaps fitting to be one of the latest chapters in the high school sports history books.

Al Hughes, entering his 13th season at the helm of the Lovejoy football program, is the area’s elder statesman as far as football coaches go. Eagle’s Landing’s Joe Teknipp is next, entering his sixth year on the Golden Eagles’ sidelines.

Jonesboro boys basketball coach Dan Maehlman has been there for nine years — the longest of any hoops coach. Of course I could be missing someone.

Nevertheless, longevity has been obsolete in the college and pro ranks for years, and is increasingly becoming extinct in high school. Chalk it up to several factors, not the least of which is the double-edged sword of success, combined with the irresistible urge to climb its ladder.

The Southern Crescent witnessed a fairly decent amount of success over the last school year, especially in what’s commonly know as the “big three” sports (football, basketball and baseball).

And yes, as a consequence, the change bug has snuck its way into the Southern Crescent bloodstream.

As summer is getting ready to ease in, six schools are seeing coaches of several of these sports ease out.

Both Lovejoy and Eagle’s Landing Christian advanced to GHSA state championships in football, with Lovejoy being the first program in the 20 school area to achieve back-to-back football state title berths.

The Wildcats came up short of bringing Clayton County its first state football title in 25 years, but ELCA delivered, bringing back the hardware after a 33-0 win over Prince Avenue Christian in the Class A private school division final.

ELCA also won the state crown in baseball this year.

Neither the Chargers nor the Wildcats could keep their football staffs intact. ELCA saw defensive coordinator Derrick Chastain move on to coach the defensive line at AAAAAA powerhouse Grayson.

Meanwhile, Lovejoy lost Kevin Jones — the architect of arguably the best defense in the state regardless of class over the last two years — to Dutchtown after Jason Galt moved on to fill the vacancy at North Forsyth.

Eagle’s Landing boys basketball was bitten by the change bug fresh off of winning its first basketball state title in March when coach Clay Crump announced earlier this week that he’d be leaving for the Harrison (Cobb County) job.

For the last eight years, Crump has helped build the Golden Eagles from an afterthought to an emerging state power.

Consequently, his coaching success became ultra attractive to Harrison — a AAAAAA school with a decent tradition and a championship thirst of its own.

Riverdale enjoyed an uptick in productivity when hot shot defensive coordinator Olten Downs came into town two years ago from Carver-Columbus.

In his two seasons, he transformed the Raiders from also-ran to a playoff caliber squad. Riverdale’s 7-4 mark snapped a six-year streak of losing seasons. Under Downs, the Raiders found their way to postseason play for the first time in eight years.

But Downs couldn’t pass up the chance to answer the call to be Creekside’s new head coach.

Enter Terry Herrod. The former Dutchtown defensive coordinator brings his fiery persona to Riverdale as Downs’ successor. He hopes to lead Riverdale to its first consecutive winning seasons since Jones did it when he made his only other head coaching stop at the school in 2006.

But not all coaching vacancies have come about on the heels of success.

North Clayton will welcome James Sosa to the sidelines after Max Wiltz left the program following a 2-8 season — the Eagles’ worst finish since back-to-back 1-9 seasons in 1990 and 1991.

But perhaps the program that has seen the most seismic shakeup across the board is Forest Park. The Panthers — stop me if you’ve heard this one — are saying hello to yet another football coach. Veteran high school coach John Diehl was named the Panthers’ fifth coach in as many seasons almost immediately following the 2012 season when outgoing coach Don Williams resigned.

Diehl will look to stop the bleeding of a program that has lost a whopping 103 games since it posted its last winning season in 2000.

He’s not the only new face at Forest Park. Steven Love was announced Tuesday as the school’s new head basketball coach, and Malikah Lucas-Green has been tapped as new athletic director replacing Larry Mortensen.

What does this all mean? We won’t know the full implications of these moves until the end of the upcoming season — or maybe two or three seasons down the road.

What we do know is more and more of the tendencies of high school sports are beginning to mirror those of their college and professional counterparts, from the year-round training regimens to the coaching carousels.

It’s a trend that looks like it will continue, for better or for worse.

Gabriel Stovall covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald Newspapers. You can contact him at gstovall@news-daily.com. On Twitter? Follow him @GabrielStovall1