Len Robbins’ column – January 23, 2019
In the last 45 years, Clinch County High has had three head football coaches.
That’s rare. For comparison, over that same time period, since 1974, in the counties that surround Clinch, Atkinson County has had 11 head football coaches; Lanier County has had eight (in 20 years); Berrien High has had 17; and Ware County has had 10.
While there are many reasons for Clinch County High’s successes in football, that’s the main one. It’s not that we have far superior athletes. If that were the case, we would have a similar record of domination in other sports that rely more on athleticism, such as track or basketball.
It’s coaching continuity. It’s coaches who have a dedication to the school and community.
Coach Donald Tison was the first CCHS grad to be the head football coach. Prior to his arrival, Clinch County High had four winning seasons out of 20 years of playing football. Since then, the last 45 years, we’ve had four losing seasons.
And since then, we’ve had three head coaches – Tison, Cecil Barber and Jim Dickerson.
But that’s about to change.
Thursday, Jim Dickerson announced he will be retiring after 30 years in the school system, and 15 years as the head football coach.
Dickerson played football for Tison and Barber at CCHS, then started coaching as a volunteer assistant during the 1988 season – Clinch’s first state title football team. He was an assistant from 1989-2003, taking over for Barber as head coach in 2004. The Panthers shared the state title that season, and went on to win four more under Dickerson, including the 2018 crown this past December – the team’s third in the last four years.
I’ve been covering high school sports for most of my life – 35 years, to be exact, starting as a high school sophomore. I’ve been at this newspaper for 25 years, and covered high school athletics at two daily newspapers prior to that. Over those years, I’ve dealt with a lot of coaches, both in Clinch County and elsewhere. That said, I can’t think of one coach who’s been easier to deal with than Jim Dickerson.
That’s certainly not a knock of any other current or past coaches I’ve had the pleasure to work with for my job – experiences that have been 99 percent positive. But Coach Dickerson stands out for his humility and graciousness and honesty. He seems to have one mood – himself. You would have to try awfully hard not to like him.
In all my dealings with Coach Dickerson, I’ve never heard him – not once – take credit for anything, or boast about anything. With the type of outrageous success he’s had as a head coach, most of us (hand raised) would naturally steer toward a touch of bravado or arrogance. I’ve never seen that from Jim.
His manner – playful and jovial – masks a keen mind for the game, particularly in terms of defensive strategy. To understand his coaching acumen, you have to watch him in the film room, masterfully picking apart tendencies of an opponent. You have to watch him on the practice field, interacting with his players ‑ a frenetic bundle of positive, encouraging energy. Coach Dickerson made football fun.
As talented as the rest of our coaching staff is – and they’re one of the best high school coaching staffs in the nation (see three out of four state championships), there’s no way to replace that energy, that personality. It’s one of a kind.
Sure, Clinch County will continue to have success in football – as long as we keep with the template that has brought that success.
But it won’t ever be the same without “Coach Dick.”