Upson-Lee head football coach Tommy Watson and Athletic Director Eddie Payne each resigned from their positions this week. When news of their resignation was announced on Tuesday, it sent shock waves through the community. Watson, who took over the head coaching position six years ago, ends his tenure as head coach with a 23-38 record, with one playoff appearance in 2011.
This past season Watson and his Knights finished with a 4-6 record for the second year in a row. Since Tuesday, the UL football program has been the talk of the town. Personally, I have had numerous people come up to me to talk about it this week, at the grocery store, the gas station, and even while eating dinner in a restaurant. Since these events have unfolded, one thing is evident to me…the community still cares about their local high school football team.
Of the members of the community who have spoken to me, some thought that a new start with a new coach could be what the team needed, while others thought that Coach Watson leaving would set the Knights back further. Either way, it showed me that people were talking about Upson-Lee football and the community is yearning for the Knights to have success. How they should go about achieving that success differs from person to person.
In my profession, I deal with facts, and when something of this nature hits the fish bowl community that is Thomaston, facts can become blurry. Many rumors have already started about who will replace Watson and Payne. However, they are just that, rumors. One would think that Upson-Lee would wait until the current playoffs are over before beginning their search of a replacement.
Since Tuesday everyone has given me an opinion of who they would like to see as coach, most having ties to this local community. As far as who the people in the community are talking about, I have heard the names of Tommy Parks (HC- Harris County), Sheddrick Risper (HC- Westside-Macon), Rusty Easom (DC- Griffin), Steven Devoursney (HC- Griffin), and Chris Teal (HC- Poplarsville, MS). With that said, who knows if any of these coaches are even interested? Or, would the Knights be better off hiring someone not from Upson County? That’s a decision for the higher ups to make, not me, and not people in the community, but whoever takes over needs the support of the community. Personally, I expect Upson-Lee to take their time in making any decisions.
With that said, what can the new person in charge of the Knights program expect to see in the locker room? Young talent, that’s what they will see. The Knights started six sophomores this season, and a freshman at quarterback, something that is almost unheard of in GHSA AAAA varsity football. The Knights also had one of their best seasons at the ninth grade and junior varsity levels in years. The Knights return eight players that got regular playing time on offense, and eight players on defense. They will need to replace 1,000 yard running back Sontrell Perry and All-Region kicker/punter Tyler Stewart.
Then comes the discussion of reclassification which takes place in the next month or so. This will have a huge impact on any coach that comes in to take over. What classification will UL be in next year and what region? All of that plays a huge part in getting a coach to come to your school, but perhaps the most important part is what positions do you have open in your school as far as teaching, and what are you willing to pay to get the coach you want.
As the search for a new coach and Athletic Director unfolds, The Times will keep you updated on all that is Upson-Lee football. Stay tuned!
On a personal note…when I took this job at the paper over five years ago, it was Tommy Watson’s first year at the helm of the Knights. I have worked closely with him and Coach Payne since my first day on the job, and they have made my job so much easier than it could have been. I want to personally thank them for what they have done for me, my community, and my high school.