Even while nobody is competing on the field it’s been a very good time for high school football in Mobile and Baldwin counties.
Despite the lack of actual games or even spring practice, we’ve seen more activity than normal on the coaching carousel. The result is that the sport should be stronger than ever once games resume this fall.
Let’s take a look at how a few teams have put themselves in position for a chance at unprecedented success.
The top headline, of course, was the hiring of Philip Rivers by St. Michael Catholic. When’s the last time a high school hiring made the scroll on ESPN? I can’t recall another time. But that was certainly the case two weeks ago when the Cardinals introduced Rivers as their coach of the future.
Rivers, a native of Athens and the son of a longtime high school coach, will make $25 million for playing quarterback this season with the Indianapolis Colts. There’s always the chance that things could go so well that he would return to the Colts for a second season.
But the expectation is that by February he’ll be in Fairhope full-time as the head coach at the developing school. Once he arrives at St. Michael, he’s expected to take a pay cut … like a 99 percent pay cut.
Of course, he’s not doing it for the money. Rivers and his wife have nine kids. He’s said one of his life goals has always been to coach his two sons in high school, just as his father coached him and his brother.
The Class of 2021 will be the first class of graduating seniors ever at St. Michael. This will also be the Cardinals’ first year with a full varsity football program.
Nobody thinks St. Michael is going to be an immediate state championship contender. They’ve won only three games in the history of the school. But the arrival of Rivers is going to undoubtedly attract a lot of good athletes who would have otherwise never considered the school.
It’s going to be interesting to see how quickly Rivers can get the Cardinals in championship contention and how much the school’s growth will impact McGill-Toolen Catholic in Mobile and public and private schools in Baldwin County.
One of St. Michael’s two wins last season came in the finale against Elberta. But there’s a new sense of excitement and purpose surrounding the Elberta program since the hiring of former Baldwin County High coach Nathan McDaniel.
McDaniel is as good as any coach in the state when it comes to embracing every aspect of building a successful program. He will get the community involved, he will get the best athletes out of the hallways and onto the field, and he will build a winning and positive culture.
It will be interesting to see how long it takes him to turn that into success on the field.
The beneficiary of the building blocks laid by McDaniel at Baldwin County is Scott Rials, who arrives in Bay Minette with a resume that can’t be questioned. His overall record of 171-84 includes a 15-0 state championship season at Elba and 34 wins in the last three seasons at Luverne.
There’s no reason to believe he won’t continue that type of success at Baldwin County.
Deric Scott is leaving Vigor to return to Foley, where he was previously an assistant. Scott led the Wolves to a state championship game.
Now, his challenge with the Lions is making sure he gets a commitment from all the best athletes in the school. With his personality and reputation that shouldn’t be a problem.
Fans at tradition-rich Vigor don’t want to hear anything about rebuilding or a coach needing time to adjust to a new job. That’s fine with Scott’s replacement, new Wolves coach John McKenzie.
McKenzie is no stranger to Gulf Coast high school football, having focused on the area during his many years as a college recruiter. Now, the former head coach at Delaware State is ready to take control of the Vigor program.
He won’t have any chance to ease into the position, as his first game is scheduled against rival Blount.
The last school to be without a head football coach is Chickasaw.
Like every other facet of life, it’s an unusual time for high school sports. But some high-profile and smart hires this offseason will ensure that the Gulf Coast of Alabama will continue to be one of the best areas for high school football in the country.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 18 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays on the new Sports Talk 99.5 from 7-10 a.m.
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