When the surprise resignation of Tracy White as the football head coach at Bleckley County became public Dec. 6, few expected it to have major repercussions in Middle Georgia high school football, nor spark massive speculation.
Immediately afterward and in the ensuing weeks, the center of that speculation was Houston County head coach Von Lassiter returning to his hometown and alma mater. And the rumors only grew. Finally, Bleckley County principal Trey Belflower decided to confront them.
“A lot later than everybody had speculated, I can assure you,” Belflower said about when he contacted Lassiter. “I said, ‘Well, the rumors are out there, maybe it’s meant for us to talk.’ ”
They talked and talked, and the Bleckley County Board of Education approved Lassiter as the head coach at his alma mater Tuesday.
A phone call Tuesday night to Lassiter wasn’t returned. Belflower said he had talked to Lassiter.
Lassiter leaves a GHSA Class 6A program that had developed a statewide reputation in recent years, albeit largely on the exploits of now-at-Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm. The Bears reached No. 1 in 2016 for several weeks, but a 7-3 record in a remarkably difficult Region 1-6A wasn’t enough for the Bears to make the playoffs.
Superintendent Steve Smith is also a minister and spoke to Lassiter’s Houston County team last fall.
“I didn’t fathom that we would have …,” Smith said. “I see cameras everywhere, he’s got this stud Fromm standing beside him. And I’m thinking, ‘He’s in Heaven. Why in the heck would he want to come to Bleckley County?’ ”
Coming home was the reason, Belflower said.
Smith said the first official interview with Lassiter took place Jan. 11. Belflower said the finalists were another head coach, an offensive coordinator and a strength and conditioning coach. He said he and his administrative staff decided a week earlier they were ready to make a recommendation.
Lassiter, who will take a pay cut, will take over the athletics director duties of Benjy Rogers, who Smith said had started talking at the beginning of the school year about giving up those duties. That, Smith said, was one reason Rogers wasn’t involved in either coaching move the school made.
Lassiter will be Bleckley County’s fifth head coach since 2000 and third straight alumni, following White and Sam Barrs.
The school became Bleckley County in 1977, from Cochran. Jimmy Kilpatrick was 100-85 at Cochran and Bleckley County from 1973-1990. He, Joe Hubbert (19-14 from 1970-72), Dennis Roland (12-8 from 1991-92) and Ron Harbin (32-30 from 1993-1998) are the only head coaches in the program since 1970 to leave with a winning record.
Since 1977, Bleckley County has had three straight winning seasons only twice, with five straight from 1977-81 and three in a row under Barrs and White from 2011-2013.
White announced his resignation Dec. 6 after discussions with Smith and Belflower. There were 43 official applicants. Belflower said after the board’s regular meeting Jan. 17 that there was, in fact, no decision made and no interviews had taken place.
The move makes things interesting for Houston County, which now seeks its fifth head coach in program history and fifth since 2006 when Doug Johnson, the Bears’ first head coach, resigned. George Collins went 1-9 as interim head coach, and Greg Robinson was 17-33 in five seasons.
The Bears lose Fromm, receivers Eli Watson and Amari Colbert, offensive linemen D.J. Journey, Tucker Coody and Malcolm Lawson, and defenders Mack McCullough, Andrew Brown, Kor’darius Melton, and Trey Jones, among others, and kickers Tim Freeman and Declan Furlough.
But the bulk of the defense returns, along with running back Jaevon West, receiver Tyler Fromm and offensive lineman Trey Hill, among others. The program also lost defensive line coach Kevin Smith, who was approved last month to take over at Perry.
Lassiter is a 1997 graduate of Bleckley County, playing offensive line under Harbin. Rogers started coaching Lassiter when Lassiter was in fourth grade.
The Royals went 6-4 in Lassiter’s senior season, and they have finished above .500 four times since then, including twice under White.
Belflower said he hopes to be able to make the transition by March 1.