Rodney Collins did the math.
The Stratford football head coach spent 52 years in football as a player or coach.
“I think that’s about enough football,” Collins said Wednesday after stepping down as the leader of the Stratford program. Collins cited a desire to spend more time with his children and three grandchildren, the oldest of whom was born about the same time Collins returned to Stratford. Collins will remain at the school as a teacher.
“Replacing Coach Collins as head football coach will be a difficult task, but replacing a man with his loyalty, high moral character, leadership ability and love for Stratford will be even more difficult,” Stratford athletics director Grady Smith said.
Collins went 158-95-2 in 21 seasons as the head coach at Stratford. He won GISA Class AAA championships in 1993, 1999 and 2000 and five region championships. He went 247-160-5 overall in his career with stops at John Milledge, Briarwood, Southland and Baker Academy. He also won a championship in 1976 at Briarwood.
Only six coaches who have spent the majority of their career in Middle Georgia won more games than Collins — Robert Davis, Dan Pitts, Barney Hester, Ronnie Jones, Buck Cravey and Conrad Nix.
“It’s one thing, the coaching part of it,” said Hester, who coached at Tattnall Square against Collins and Stratford in four GISA championship games. “He does a tremendous job as a coach. He’s so much more than that. He asks about your family, calls my daughters by name. He’s so genuine. He truly cares about football, but he cares about people. Now, I don’t like him a whole lot on Friday nights, because I knew how well they would be prepared.”
The Eagles and Trojans split those four championship meetings. Collins and Stratford beat Westfield in 1993 for his first title, and he then led the Eagles to wins over Tattnall in 1999 and 2000. He stayed at Stratford for 15 seasons after arriving from John Milledge in 1998. He left in 2002 for an assistant coaching job at Riverside Military, which won a GISA Class AAA championship in 2005 while he was on staff.
Collins has said he wished he wouldn’t have left Macon.
“I missed being here. Regret is not the right word, but I missed it,” Collins said.
Collins returned to Stratford in 2006, and he ascended to the top job after Mark Farriba left for Prince Avenue Christian in 2007. Collins went 45-26 in his six seasons during his second stint as the head coach. He led the Eagles to the 2011 GISA Class AAA championship game, which they lost to Tattnall.
While he stands as one of the winningest coaches in Middle Georgia history, Collins was also a standout player at Hawkinsville. He learned the craft of coaching as a player for legendary Hawkinsville head coach Bobby Gentry, who won 203 games and three state championships leading the Red Devils.
“Coach Gentry is the reason I coached,” Collins said.
The same admiration Collins had for Gentry is similar to the way some of Collins’ contemporaries feel about him. Hester said Collins was the first person to congratulate him after Tattnall won its first state championship in 1988.
“He is just an absolute class guy,” Hester said.
Farriba was both an assistant coach under Collins and a head coach with Collins on his staff. Farriba said he met Collins while he was a young coach at FPD and Collins was at Southland.
“He spent a lot of time with me, very willing to help a young guy out,” Farriba said. “I’ve always respected him, and then I had a chance to work with him. He lets you do your job. He’s real encouraging and real supportive.”
Collins said he thinks the future is bright for his successor. The Eagles return a talented rising senior class as well as some sophomores who played key minutes this season. The biggest challenge will be rebuilding an offensive line that loses all of its starters.
“The cupboard is not bare,” Collins said.