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Chris Gay: Ridings is in the hot seat

Posted: May 10, 2017 - 2:16am

Rob Ridings is 25-3 the past two seasons, led his Thomson football team to the state championship game last year and could be out of a job this week.

Take all the drama involved with the Columbia County spring sports (baseball, soccer, lacrosse, etc.) - and heck, you can even throw in football - and you still will not come close to the soap opera unfolding just up the road with one of the state's premier football programs. This makes The Young and the Restless look tame.

The McDuffie County Board of Education meets at 7 p.m. Thursday to discuss the fate of Ridings. The meeting will allow for public input for people who have already signed up to speak. This could get crazy, folks.

Background: Ridings was the offensive coordinator for legendary head coach Luther Welsh when the Bulldogs last won a state title in 2002. While Welsh continued to lead Thomson, Ridings departed to take over a Glynn Academy program that had won three games before his arrival. After Welsh stepped down after the 2010 season, Thomson hired Milan Turner of Emanuel County Institute to replace the legend. Turner, who won a state championship at ECI, went 21-3 his first two seasons at Thomson. But he finally wore out his welcome with a 3-7 record in 2013.

With the departure of Turner, Thomson had its choice of great coaches. Ultimately, Ridings was selected for the position, becoming the school's third head coach since 1999.

The hiring made sense. Ridings was a former assistant for the Bulldogs who spent a decade at Glynn Academy (a program in a higher classification), turning around that team. He led the Red Terrors to eight playoff appearances in 10 years.

In his first year at Thomson, Ridings was faced with another rebuild. He went 4-7 his first campaign, leading the Bulldogs to the playoffs and a near-upset of Eastside in the first round. The next season, the Bulldogs advanced to the state quarterfinals. Last year, the team went all the way to the Georgia Dome - Thomson's first state title appearance in 14 years.

Fast forward to the spring. Ridings was suspended recently by the school board. (The school board's handling of this situation has been deplorable.)

The reason for the suspension: A mother claims Ridings entered the back door of the Thomson-McDuffie Middle School, found her child and, according to WJBF, "harassed my son, threatened, bullied, intimidated...he had my son in an office against his will."

There's speculation on the other side that the middle school student was bullying one of Ridings' sons. He tried to go through the proper protocol.

Nothing happened. So he went to speak to the child in an office with two other coaches there.

It's hard for me to believe Ridings went over to the middle school unprovoked. He has enough going on in his life that he's not going to single out one child without reason.

Nonetheless, the incident gives ammunition to his opposition. Some folks never wanted him there in the first place. If those folks blame him for the state championship loss, they're sadly mistaken. Coaching couldn't overcome all the mistakes made on the field.

RECAP: No. 2 Thomson got blown out by No. 1 Cartersville in the Class AAAA title game. Nick Saban could've coached the Bulldogs and Thomson still would've lost. Thomson was an underdog entering the contest, especially with the Purple Hurricanes featuring the state's top-ranked player in junior quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who has verbally committed to Clemson. But Lawrence didn't so much beat Thomson as the Bulldogs defeated themselves.

If you remember, Cartersville went up 7-0. After the teams traded punts, Thomson star returner/defensive back Christian Tutt fumbled a punt that the Hurricanes recovered inside the red zone. That turnover led to a 14-0 deficit.

Thomson trailed by 14 later in the first half when star running back Mike Thomas lost the first of his two fumbles that led to another Cartersville touchdown.

The Bulldogs committed six turnovers (five fumbles, one interception). It's moronic to think Ridings could overcome all the mistakes.

Still, there's a faction of people who'd prefer to have another coach. Some don't approve of the quarterback, Mills Ridings, one of the coach's sons who will be a senior in the fall. At last check, Mills Ridings led a high-powered offensive attack that won its first 14 games, including a region championship last season. He also went 15 for 23 passing (65 percent) for 191 yards and an interception in the state title game.

Some observers say the matter with Rob Ridings comes down to race. If so, that's a shame. In Columbia County, we're fortunate to have three of the seven programs (Keith Walton, Augusta Christian; Lemuel Lackey, Evans; and Damien Postell, Grovetown) led by black head coaches who are great mentors, great guys who absolutely deserve to be leading their programs. There are other outstanding black head football coaches in the state, like Eric Parker at Burke County and Franklin Stephens at Ware County.

Would a black head football coach do well at Thomson? Absolutely. But what's wrong with Ridings? If he were 3-25 the previous two seasons at Thomson, I'd have a pitchfork like all of his dissenters. Instead, he's gone 25-3. The man's a winner on and off the field, a role model who has impacted the lives of many children through the years. And he could soon be forced out of a job soon. And what's to say he still wants to coach amid all the controversy?

Wouldn't it be nice if folks in Thomson cared more about the illegitimacy rate in the county - 50 percent or higher every year since 1999 - than football? (Check it out for yourself at oasis.state.ga.us). Wouldn't it be nice if folks cared more about education? Cared more about bringing in more jobs?

Instead, the school board meets Thursday night to discuss the football coach. This entire thing is a mess.

 

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