As you’re reading this morning, you probably know how Friday’s Marion County-Trousdale County playoff game came out.
You’re one-up on me as I’m typing this on Thursday night.
Regardless of whether the unbeaten Yellow Jackets moved a round closer to another state championship or the Warriors pulled an upset, it’s safe to say Marion County just wrapped up one of the most bizarre weeks a high school football team has ever endured.
The Warriors lost their head coach and three assistants during a tumultuous week in which two of the aides were arrested and charged with vandalizing their own team’s fieldhouse in an attempt to fire up their players and blaming it on neighboring rival South Pittsburg.
The third assistant was relieved of his duties after admitting to breaking into South Pitt’s fieldhouse to steal playsheets. In addition, one of the first two assistants, according to text messages, broke into the football offices at Sequatchie County where two playbooks are missing, according to that school’s coach.
All three assistants were suspended and, when the news broke in the Wednesday Chattanooga Times-Free Press in an excellent story by one of the top prep writers in the state, Stephan Hargis [who should be raking in some awards for this next year], head coach Mac McCurry initiated a meeting with his principal and school’s director to tender his resignation.
The administrators couldn’t accept the resignation fast enough. It wasn’t just that the allegations occurred on McCurry’s watch, it was that, according to the cellphone records of one of the assistants, the head coach was aware of what happened and even ordered it.
In addition, a former South Pitt player who went on to play college football was paid to practice with the Warriors the week of that game to simulate the Pirates’ speed. It’s a clear violation of TSSAA rules and comes just a year and a half after the school, just four months after McCurry was hired, self-reported a violation of spring practice rules, prompting the association to cancel Marion’s spring drills. This was at the same time Lebanon was docked its spring practice for holding workouts outside the time period allowed.
TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress told the Times-Free Press the association would wait until after the criminal investigation is complete to set its penalties. But he said, “If everything that is being brought to light really happened, my question to Marion County High administrators is, ‘Why should you continue to have a football program?’”
The situation is so severe it was thought by some last night’s game might be canceled with Trousdale advancing by forfeit.
Fortunately there is no evidence of any wrongdoing by Marion County players or any indication of ineligible players being used, so it would have been blatantly unfair to the players to terminate their season like that. There is plenty of time for TSSAA to lay the hammer on the program if it’s so warranted.
Plus, the Yellow Jackets needed to play the game. They’ve had two open dates in the last four weeks and need the games to maintain or regain their sharpness, which they would need over the final two rounds. You can’t forfeit your way to a state championship.
Having written all that, what bothers me most is the head coach involved.
I’ve known Mac McCurry for 21 years since he was considered one of the top coaches in the state at Moore County, a community, school and football program much like Trousdale County, though without all the championship banners. He guided the Raiders to the title game in the late ’80s where they lost to Donelson Christian.
In the Tullahoma-Moore County area, he was well respected for his craft. When Tullahoma had an opening for its football coaching position, McCurry’s name came up. He had been a Wildcat assistant at one time and still lived in town. He finally called me at The Tullahoma News while I was on deadline and said he was removing himself from consideration for the post.
The school hired Maryville’s John Olive, a Carson-Newman teammate of McCurry’s who just wrapped up his 21st season with the Wildcats.
McCurry is a no-nonsense coach. I remember standing on the Tullahoma sideline during a scrimmage at Moore County, I and everybody in the packed stadium heard him chew out a player on the field who, in the coach’s mind, had a different agenda from the team’s, telling him, “This is not the [Player’s Name] Show, this is MOORE COUNTY FOOTBALL.”
McCurry has been a close friend of Friendship Christian’s John McNeal, who used to take his Commanders to a preseason camp McCurry held in a secluded area of Metro Moore County.
McCurry departed tiny Moore County for bigger Marshall County, then left the state. I didn’t hear much from him until he took the Marion County job. I saw him a year ago when he brought his Warriors to Pirtle Field for a playoff game against the then-state champion-bound Commanders.
According to the Times-Free Press, McCurry did have some skeletons in his closet, including a DUI while coaching in Mississippi. He was hired as head coach at a couple of schools but left within weeks, one of which was for lying on his application regarding the DUI.
Marion County’s principal said he knew about the red flags, but didn’t feel they were big enough to not hire the coach, who has a 239-71 record.
Obviously, he can coach. He’s good enough he didn’t need to cheat, or did he? It begs the question in my mind, “Was he doing these shenanigans throughout his career and no one saw it or everyone overlooked it, or did the pressures of coaching high school football in communities which demand winners push him to do so”?
I don’t have the answer to that. I do know that the coach who was well-respected and admired two decades ago is radioactive today. The T-FP says McCurry’s name was linked to an opening in North Alabama.
But not anymore.
And as bad as I might feel for the coach I knew [or thought I knew] decades ago, if these allegations are even close to true, he brought it upon himself.