Dell McGee spent eight seasons as the head football coach at Carver High.
What he accomplished both on and off the football field has been well-documented and was once again spotlighted a little over a week ago when he announced he was leaving the Tigers to take a position on Auburn University's football support staff.
Former players, current Carver athletes and colleagues all spoke highly of the coach's contributions to a program that won 88 games, six region championships and a state title under his watch. More than the wins, though, they said they appreciated the guidance and direction McGee provided for them off the field.
It was that reward, McGee said, that he appreciates more than anything else from his time with the Tigers.
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The coach sat down with the Ledger-Enquirer last Saturday to discuss his time at Carver and how it helped shape him as a football coach.
Eight years here. That had to have been a great experience, all the things you guys accomplished on the field, all the success, all the great individuals.
You said it all. We had a lot of great players. It was definitely a process that took place. Each year, we tried to add something new to the program to try and elevate it, and I think that was the biggest key to our success: Us growing together as coaches. There was a lot of coaching turnover, and that was a difficult process. I think with me being a mainstay and the help I received from our administration, we were able to build something good here.
You mention the administration. How did they help you?
I think Christopher Lindsey, our principal, does an outstanding job of working with athletics. That's just an invaluable resource when your administration really supports athletics and supports the decisions that we make as coaches on and off the field in dealing with our athletes.
I spoke with Mr. Lindsey last week about the impact you had not just on the football team, but on the school. He mentioned how much athletics and academics go hand in hand. Is that the case?
They absolutely do. We talk about it as coaches to our kids. I'm not saying it's the only sport that starts the year off, but it is the main attraction. And the success and the wins and everything kind of flourish throughout the school with behavior and academics, and it just sets the tone for the whole year. That was something that we always really emphasized to our football players: We're basically the bell cows and everyone is going to follow.
You mention the growth of all the coaches. For you specifically, you came in as a young coach. How did you develop as a coach at Carver?
I know any coach will say, I think I started out as a terrible coach. (Laughing) I had to learn a lot of different things. There's just so much involvement when you're the head coach, especially in the type of school with the type of kids that you deal with here. You have to wear a lot of different hats. And it's daily. It wasn't something that you could handle once in a month. You address players every single day, especially with the number of players we had in our program. We treated all of them the same as far as that was concerned. I didn't ignore a kid that didn't play for us. If a teacher called me about a kid that didn't play, I would discipline or speak to that kid just as if he was a star. That part of it took a lot of time and effort, and our coaches did a great job with that as well.
It seemed like you flourished in that role over time, though. I spoke with former players and every one of them talked about you as a father figure, someone who they could keep in touch with. How much does that experience mean to you?
It really, really hit me after winning a state championship game. It was a great deal, a great honor, but it was just a championship. The biggest gratification I started getting was seeing those kids develop and seeing their character change, the way they carried themselves change. Just the confirmation of the knowledge that they gained I think was the biggest thing.
Is that what you'll miss the most -- the interaction with the players, the daily grind, sitting down and talking with them?
There are so many episodes of one on one talks with those kids, them pouring out their shortcomings and their troubles and how they responded to the advice that was given. They responded in a great manner and didn't let adversity ruin their lives. They were able to grow. There are a lot of kids with a lot of adversity that only people who have worked at Carver and schools like Carver really understand. That's a huge part of everything. That's the main thing. Hopefully, those guys grow up to be better people when they leave our program, and for the most part I think people have done that.
When you were presented with this opportunity, how hard was it to make that final decision?
I prayed about it. It was something that was an aspiration of mine, and when the opportunity came, it was something I couldn't turn down. God opened the door and I definitely had to follow that and see where it leads. You can never predict what's going to happen, but I've got faith that I'm making the right decision as a family and hopefully this is going to take us in the direction that He wants, and I believe that it will.
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.