Char­lotte area schools strug­gle to keep their elite coaches

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY LANGSTON WERTZ JR. lw­[email protected]­lot­teob­

Aaron Brand is set­tled in Char­lotte.

Six months ago, he led Vance High School to its first ap­pear­ance in a state foot­ball cham­pi­onship. His play­ers are con­fi­dent they can go back this sea­son. Brand’s 12-year-old son, A.J., is a youth foot­ball star.

In the Vance High com­mu­nity, Aaron Brand is part celebrity, part sur­ro­gate fa­ther, part foot­ball coach.

So when he was of­fered a job at Irmo High School in Columbia in May, Brand, 43, said he felt “a whirl­wind of emo­tions.”

But as much as a draw as all of that was — the play­ers, his com­mu­nity sta­tus, his love of home — Brand still de­cided to take the job in South Carolina.

“They have ex­cel­lent fa­cil­i­ties,” he said, “and I think they care a lit­tle bit more about foot­ball down there, and the pay in­crease was too much to turn down. Still, it was one of the hard­est things I’ve ever had to do.”

More and more, foot­ball coaches in Char­lotte-Meck­len­burg Schools, like Brand, are leav­ing — or look­ing to leave — to go to South Carolina or other sys­tems. In the past two sea­sons, seven of the 19 CMS schools have changed foot­ball coaches. Vance is ex­pected to name Glen­wood Fere­bee, from Vir­ginia, to re­place Brand. And South Meck­len­burg will have to hire a new coach be­fore the 2019 sea­son be­gins.

Why are coaches mov­ing? In many cases, it comes down to money, teach­ing and fa­cil­i­ties.

Brand will nearly dou­ble his salary at Irmo. He will make more than $100,000 an­nu­ally. At Vance, he teaches three full­time classes. At Irmo, Brand said he won’t have to teach. He will have daily lunch room duty, and plenty of time to stay on top of his coach­ing du­ties. And the Irmo weight room and play­ing field — two im­por­tant items for any foot­ball coach — dwarf any­thing Vance has to of­fer.

Brand said the money was a big draw, but the fa­cil­i­ties were also part of it. He feels that fa­cil­i­ties at some CMS schools are sup­ported by the sys­tem more than oth­ers.

“What could (CMS) do dif­fer­ently? At the end of the day, they don’t love all schools equally,” Brand said. “I still can’t get over the fact they moved my (state semi­fi­nal) play­off game (with My­ers Park, due to poor field con­di­tions). It

didn’t af­fect the out­come, but our kids de­served to come out of their locker room.”


In the past 10 years, sev­eral strong head foot­ball coaches have left CMS: Tom Knotts left In­de­pen­dence High for Dutch Fork. Bobby Collins left Hough for Lan­caster. Mike New­some left Butler for Kan­napo­lis Brown. Jarvis Davis led West Meck­len­burg to its first con­fer­ence ti­tle in 30 years and left to be­come an as­sis­tant at Rock Hill. Sam Greiner led Hard­ing to an im­prob­a­ble state ti­tle and left three months later for Har­ris­burg’s Hick­ory Ridge. Many strong as­sis­tant coaches have also moved.

In each case, the coaches got a big raise, fewer teach­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and what they all de­scribed as “more sup­port.”

Un­like Brand, who is mov­ing to an­other state, New­some was able to stay in­side the North Carolina pub­lic school sys­tem and con­tinue to ac­crue years to­wards his re­tire­ment pen­sion. But he un­der­stands why coaches still make the jump south.

“Is it an epi­demic? I can see where some­body would say that,” said New­some, who led Butler to state cham­pi­onships in 2009 and 2010 be­fore leav­ing. “When I got the op­por­tu­nity to go and was get­ting a con­sid­er­able pay raise, I was able to stay in the state re­tire­ment sys­tem, which was a bonus. With Aaron (Brand), you get a chance to dou­ble your salary, who wouldn’t take that op­por­tu­nity?”

In some dis­tricts, foot­ball coaches in South Carolina are paid as ad­min­is­tra­tors, not teach­ers, so their salaries ri­val those of as­sis­tant prin­ci­pals. Knotts, for ex­am­ple, made around $64,000 when he left In­de­pen­dence 10 years ago. He makes well north of $100,000 now as ath­let­ics di­rec­tor and head foot­ball coach at Dutch Fork.

A 2016 sur­vey con­ducted by the State news­pa­per in Columbia, showed that nearly a dozen South Carolina ath­let­ics direc­tors or foot­ball coaches, like Knotts, earned more than $100,000 an­nu­ally.

Tommy Wil­son, schools su­per­in­ten­dent for An­der­son County (S.C.) District Five, told the State news­pa­per in Columbia in 2016 that he was given permission by his school board to seek out — and pay — the best foot­ball coaches he could find. He said grad­u­a­tion rates in­creased after­ward — as well as the per­for­mances of teams on the field. Ac­cord­ing to the S.C. Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion, the grad­u­a­tion rate at TL Hanna was 77.5 per­cent in 2012. In 2018, the grad­u­a­tion rate had jumped to 85.9 per­cent.

In the eight years be­fore Wil­son started in 2013 and in­creased coaches’ pay, TL Hanna av­er­aged 4.6 wins per year. In the five years since, it’s av­er­aged 8.8 wins, in­clud­ing go­ing 11-1 in 2017 and 14-1 in 2018.

The 2018 team reached the school’s first state cham­pi­onship game in 44 years.

“Our de­sire is to have the high­est paid coaches in the state. They un­der­stand the ex­pec­ta­tions as well,” Wil­son told the State. “You get what you pay for. If you want a $60,000 coach, they are out there. When I came here from Ge­or­gia, I felt the ath­let­ics (had) been to­tally ne­glected. And I think the stronger ath­let­ics pro­grams you have go hand in with strong aca­demic and arts.”

Last year, CMS gave coaches a 20 per­cent in­crease in their coach­ing stipends, the first such raise in 14 years.

Head foot­ball coaches saw in­creases from $4,172 to $5,006.40.

But across the state line, in nearby Rock Hill, the head foot­ball coaches’ sup­ple­ment is $ 7,415. A foot­ball as­sis­tant there can eas­ily make more than a CMS head coach, or coaches in other North Carolina sys­tems like Cabar­rus County.

“I’ve lost two assistants go­ing to Rock Hill,” New­some said.

“They make dou­ble (the stipend pay of) what they make (at Kan­napo­lis Brown) as an as­sis­tant. They drive from Kan­napo­lis to Rock Hill ev­ery day. I tried to talk them into com­ing back, but they won’t be­cause of the pay cut they’d have to take.”

CMS di­rec­tor of ath­let­ics Sue Do­ran did not re­spond to mul­ti­ple re­quests for com­ment on this story.


In some cases, South Carolina foot­ball coaches, like Knotts, dou­ble as ath­let­ics direc­tors, giv­ing schools an­other op­tion to in­crease the to­tal salary. For years, CMS has not al­lowed coaches to be­come ath­let­ics direc­tors with­out giv­ing up their whis­tles. CMS added the rule, be­liev­ing that ADs didn’t have ad­e­quate time to coach teams and do the job.

But to­day, a grow­ing num­ber of CMS coaches would like to see that rule changed.

Chad­wick, whose team is loaded with col­lege re­cruits, said it’s hard to not look across the bor­der and see spring prac­tice, bet­ter fa­cil­i­ties, no teach­ing, plus more money and not feel a pull. Chad­wick will be­gin his sixth sea­son at My­ers Park next fall af­ter five at Union County’s Marvin Ridge High School be­fore that.

And Chad­wick said CMS could take a big step to­wards keep­ing its best coaches by re­lax­ing the coach/AD rule.

“That’s the eas­i­est step it can take,” he said, “and that may not be enough, but at least it’s a step. For me right now, I’m re­ally happy at the school I work at and with the ad­min­is­tra­tion and com­mu­nity ... That’s what has kept me here. That’s why I haven’t fur­ther pur­sued things like Aaron did, but at some point, I’ll have to look closer at op­por­tu­ni­ties to ad­vance my­self ca­reer­wise and fi­nan­cially.”

Los­ing a top-tier coach like a Chad­wick or a Brand can have an enor­mous ef­fect on a school, Vance ath­let­ics di­rec­tor Car­los Richard­son said.

Richard­son said, af­ter a big change, you worry about stu­dents trans­fer­ring. You worry about not hav­ing as many fans show up at games, par­tic­u­larly if the team isn’t win­ning the way it has, and foot­ball is the main fi­nan­cial driver of a high school pro­gram.

Still, Richard­son said he un­der­stands his good friend’s mo­ti­va­tion.

“It’s a big loss,” he said. “Brand is more than a coach. He’s a dad, you know. He’s ev­ery­thing. But sooner or later you have to start think­ing about tak­ing care of your fam­ily. Foot­ball is a full­time job, 12 months out of the year. Coaches want to be com­pen­sated ...

“One of the things that keeps coaches here in Char­lotte is that you’re coach­ing great kids, the best of the best. That’s a draw, but sooner or later, you’re look­ing at how much time you’re spend­ing do­ing those things and los­ing money. A lot of coaches lose money when they coach, to be hon­est.”

Brand said he’s lived that. Then an op­por­tu­nity comes for you to do the ex­act same thing you have been do­ing but with less school work, and a lot more pay.

That hap­pened to Aaron Brand this month — and Aaron Brand said he just couldn’t say no.


Last sea­son un­der Aaron Brand, Vance High School ad­vanced to its first state cham­pi­onship game. Months af­ter a run­ner-up fin­ish, Beard an­nounced he would leave for a job at Irmo in South Carolina.

Observer file photo

My­ers Park foot­ball coach Scott Chad­wick says Char­lotte-Meck­len­burg Schools would be able to re­tain its best coaches if it re­laxed a rule that pro­hibits them from also serv­ing as ath­let­ics direc­tors.

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