Former coaches reflect on time at Cherokee
August 31, 2013 10:21 PM | 4277 views | 0 0 comments | 37 37 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cherokee High School has put together just 17 winning seasons in its 57-year history despite having hall of fame coaches such as Danny Cronic, center, at the helm. <br> Special to the Tribune
Cherokee High School has put together just 17 winning seasons in its 57-year history despite having hall of fame coaches such as Danny Cronic, center, at the helm.
Special to the Tribune
By Emily Horos

The names sound a bit like a hall of fame roll call of high school football coaches — Charles “Babe” Howell, Bobby Pate, Danny Cronic, Rush Propst and Max Bass.

The men have combined more than 1,200 victories as head coaches.

When you add other names such as Richard Fendley, Ed Koester, Derek Cook, Jeff Hollis and Minton Williams, the win total moves closer to 2,000.

Aside from being successful football coaches, they all have one thing in common — they each spent a small part of their career at Cherokee High School.

Howell, who went on to become the winningest prep coach in North Carolina, was the coach at Cherokee from 1960-65. Pate spent two years at Cherokee in the early 1970s before moving on to Hart County.

Cronic, now the coach at Reinhardt University, started his career at Cherokee in 1974. He spent four seasons with the Warriors before moving on to LaGrange, Forsyth Central and eventually 18 seasons at East Coweta.

Propst and Bass both spent time at Cherokee as assistants. Propst, who was with the Warriors for just a season, made his name known at Hoover High School, a nationally regarded program outside Birmingham, Ala., and currently coaches at Colquitt County. Bass was an assistant at Cherokee in the early 1960s before taking a coaching position at Newnan, where he remained for 28 years.

Fendley and Koester were coaches at Cherokee for a few seasons each. Fendley would move on to Warner Robins, while Koester most notably coached at South Cobb and is now at South Paulding.

Cook, another former assistant, now has the top position at Kell. Hollis came to Cherokee after a successful career at Lovett and Wheeler. Minton, another assistant, later found his success at Dublin, where he won three state titles.

Despite all of the successful coaches who have walked the sideline at Tommy Baker Field, the Warriors themselves have found little success.

Cherokee opened the 2013 season with a victory Friday, which historically shouldn’t be all the surprising to Warrior fans.

Since the school opened and began playing football in 1956, Cherokee has a 25-29-2 record in season openers. However in three of those seasons — 2012, 1995 and 1970 — the season-opening win would be followed by nine consecutive losses.

Cherokee’s overall record through the 2012 season was only 224-352-7 — a winning percentage of just .390. The Warriors have claimed just one region title in 57 seasons.

For each 10-win season, there is at least one 10-loss season. The Warriors have gone undefeated twice while playing non-region schedules — first under Howell and later under Pate — where they were not eligible for the playoffs.

Brian Dameron, who was at Cherokee from 2001-11, is not only the longest-tenured coach in program history, but also the winningest. Yet, his record at Cherokee was just 57-64. Of those victories more than half (29) came from 2002-04. Dameron feels like the former administration at Cherokee — then-principal Bill Sebring and then-athletic director Mike Baker — contributed to the success he found at the program.

“Some of the coaches that I was able to hire in and bring to Cherokee, and the quality group of kids there, gave us all the ingredients,” said Dameron, who turned down the defensive coordinator position at Camden County for the Cherokee job. “I felt like we had all the things we needed there to be successful.”

Four of Dameron’s assistants — Greg Dirst, Michael Collins, Davis Harvey and Alan Lane — went on to be coaches.

While that statistics don’t seem to surprise those associated with Cherokee, the reason for the lackluster record is up for debate.

Many former coaches point to the school’s roots as a basketball power.

“Back then, when you were growing up on a farm, in the fall, you had to work,” Cronic said. “In the winter, there wasn’t that much work available, so basketball flourished. I think a lot of it goes back to the history.”

Will Heath, who played for Howell and coached under Cronic, took it a step further.

“Why these things have happened, I don’t know,” said Heath, now an assistant on Cronic’s staff at Reinhardt. “Back in the 1960s and ’70s, it really was a basketball school. Football was a hard sell for whatever reason. I think, over the years, it has improved and gotten better.”

Coaches like Cronic and Larry Prather point to the opening of other schools in the county — first Etowah, and later Sequoyah — that pulled kids away. Dameron looked to the opening of Creekview and River Ridge more recently.

“People would ask why we weren’t doing what they were doing in Valdosta, and we would say that we are, but they are just 50 years ahead of us,” Prather said. “We had to start somewhere. Cherokee (County) has gone through a lot of growth and the schools have been splitting. As they pull from you, that second and third year, you struggle. Cobb County went through this 20 or 30 years ago and now they are powerhouses. It takes time to get to that level.”

When Koester became Cherokee’s coach in 1998, there were just 16 players on the team. Over the next three seasons, the ranks would swell to almost 100.

“Obviously, with 16 players in the whole program, that wasn’t a recipe for success,” said Cook, an assistant under Koester and now the head coach at Kell High School in east Cobb County. “We were trying to get kids back out at that point, and I think we accomplished that.”

Other former coaches point to the administration. Some cited examples of coaches who were only around for a couple of seasons before being dismissed. Others looked around the state and saw better opportunities, better funded programs and more pay.

“Good coaches get good opportunities,” Prather said.

Cook said that was the story for him.

When Koester was dismissed after three seasons, Cook initially planned to stay on under Dameron. But that changed during the spring of 2006, when a position opened at South Cobb. Cook took the coaching job there and remained for two seasons before moving to his current position at Kell.

“Something just fell in my lap real late at the end of the school year and I just jumped on it,” Cook said. “I had been an assistant at Clarke-Central when I was finishing up my degree, but Cherokee was my first teaching job. Really, my first official coaching job.”

For whatever reason, 12 of Cherokee’s 16 coaches — not including current coach Josh Shaw, who is now in his second season — remained at the school for fewer than five seasons. Dameron, Richard Armstrong, Larry Parker and Howell are the only exceptions. Most assistants remained fewer than three seasons. While he can’t speak for other coaches, Dameron said he didn’t take the job at Cherokee as a stepping stone.

“Some guys take a job to get to a job,” said Dameron, now an assistant at Woodstock. “They just kind of ride the crest. That wasn’t me. I was old-school in the fact that I loved the community. I wanted to be in this area for my kids to grow up. Cherokee is a very special place on Friday nights and, no doubt, can be magical at times.”

Shaw, who isn’t looking to move on any time soon, has a unique connection to the program. Parker, who left Cherokee in 1985, moved on to Adairsville, where he coached Shaw.

“I think it’s really neat that I’m the head coach at the school where my head coach was the head coach,” Shaw said. “It’s the oldest high school in the county. There is a lot of tradition here and, obviously, we are trying to do the best we can do. Top to bottom, through the years, there hasn’t been a lot of success here, but we are trying to reverse that trend and make a program that the alumni and students can be proud of.”

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