Bobby Pope

Mercer has its own history as a cradle of coaches

There is no question that Miami of Ohio is the “cradle of coaches.”

It is remarkable the number of outstanding head coaches who have gone through that program, especially in football. Included Army head coach Earl “Red” Blaik, Paul Brown of the Cleveland Browns, Ohio State legend Woody Hayes, Notre Dame’s Ara Parseghian, Michigan’s Bo Schembechler, and Super Bowl-winning coaches John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens and Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints, just to mention a few.

And their outstanding coaches are not limited just to football. In basketball, you can add to the list Ohio State’s Thad Matta, Arizona’s Sean Miller, Arizona State’s Herb Sendek and Tennessee’s Ray Mears. Hall of Fame baseball Manager Walter Alston is a Miami graduate.

While owning nowhere near the national reputation of Miami, Mercer has produced its fair share of successful coaches throughout the years.

Quickly coming to mind are Wally Butts, a 1928 Mercer graduate, who was head football coach at Georgia for 22 years, and Jimmy Carnes, a 1956 graduate who coached at Druid Hills before going on to big-time success in track and field at Furman and later at Florida. He was selected as the U.S. Olympic coach in that sport for the 1980 games.

And let’s not forget Sam Mitchell (1985) and Glenn Wilkes (1950). Mitchell was NBA coach of the year in 2007 with the Toronto Raptors, and Wilkes won 674 games as a college head coach, mostly at Stetson.

Mitchell currently is on the Minnesota Timberwolves coaching staff.

But most of the Mercer coaching success has come at the high school level.

Take the 2012-13 school year, for example, and you find three former Bears basketball players claiming state titles.

Dr. Aaron “Pete” Geter (1987) won his sixth Class A title at Wilkinson County and followed that up with another in 2014. Also in 2013, Norcross head coach Jesse McMillan (2000) won his second Class AAAAAA title and, Melvin Randall (1985) won his second straight Florida Class AAAAAAA championship at Blanche Ely in Pompano Beach.

There are numerous other Mercerians who have made their mark in the coaching ranks as well. Among them: Glenn Cassell, Richard Reid, Mayes Dobbins, Norman Faircloth, Donnie Veal, Bobby Wilder, Craig Gibson, Hilda Heard, Bubber Adams, Tommy Mixon, Phil Jones, Emma Mumphrey Beal, Norman Carter, Sandy Harris, Barry Veal, Cecil Patterson, Chester Pierce, Kenny Brown, Mac Marchman, Tim Clifton, Butch Clifton, Dartez Talbott, Bobby Hendley, Bill Yoast, Harold Scott and Sybil Blalock. I am sure I have left out many others deserving mention.

However, the most notable in my mind is the legendary Wright Bazemore, who played football for the Bears and graduated in 1938. He took over the Valdosta High program in 1941, replacing Bobby Hooks, who resigned after winning the 1940 Class B championship to become the head coach at Mercer.

Hooks was the Bears’ final head coach before Bobby Lamb was hired to restart football.

Bazemore was the head coach at Valdosta for 28 seasons, winning 268 games and an amazing 14 state championships. In his first two seasons, the Wildcats went 14-4-1, and then he left for three years in the Navy during World War II.

On his return, Valdosta became a juggernaut on the football field, winning state championships in 1947, 1951-53, and 1956-57. From 1960-70, his teams captured eight state titles and three national championships. His l969 team allowed just seven points in its first 12 games, with 11 shutouts.

Bazemore retired as head coach at Valdosta at the relatively young age of 55, but remained as the school’s athletics director for seven more years before retiring. He died in 1988, 28 years after he was elected to the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.

Contact Bobby Pope at bobbypope428@gmail.com.

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