After 13 seasons and 401 wins as head coach at Russell County High, Tony Rasmus is ready for a new challenge.
Rasmus, the architect of a state championship in 2005 and a runner-up finish in 2007, accepted the same position at Florence High in Florence, Ala., he confirmed via text message late Sunday night.
The coach, who said he has turned down numerous offers over the years, said he felt the time was finally right for him to move on.
"It was time for me to go start fresh somewhere else," wrote Rasmus, who is currently in Toronto to watch two of his sons play. Colby's Blue Jays and Cory’s Atlanta Braves played on Monday and will play again today.
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Russell County principal Vantriese Davis said on Monday he was surprised it took a team this long to lure Rasmus away from the Warriors. Given his success at a school that had not experienced much prior to his arrival, Davis said it was only a matter of time.
“It’s surprising that after the success he’s had here that someone didn’t scoop him up earlier,” he said. “He’s a fantastic coach. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him coaching college someday. It’s sad for Russell County, but it’s a great opportunity for him as an individual.”
Two Warriors shared similar thoughts about their coach’s departure. Pitcher Will Ziebol, who will be a senior next season, said Rasmus told him last Thursday of his intentions.
“I’ll miss him being at the school,” Ziebol said. “He’s been my coach since sixth grade. I’ve known him my whole life. He was a father figure to all of us. Finding out he got a new job was tough, but we respect him for moving on.”
“It hurt a little bit,” Trent Belcher agreed. “Sometimes, you get offers you can’t turn down. He’s got to live like everyone else.”
Now it will be up to the remaining five varsity players from the 2013 season to try to continue the tradition without Rasmus. It’s a task Belcher noted is easier said than done.
“It’s definitely going to be hard to keep the tradition going without him,” he said. “He’s the heart of the tradition. It’s like shooting somebody in the heart — it’s tough to survive that.”
Davis said the search for a new coach hasn’t begun yet and admitted it won’t be an easy process.
“We haven’t begun yet,” he said. “I don’t think you replace a Tony Rasmus. It’s going to be extremely tough to carry on his success.”
Davis said that, while the process is in the very beginning stages, there are a couple of guys who have been around Rasmus as players and on staff and that he’ll have to sit down with the superintendent to discuss the matter forward.
Though Davis declined to provide any names, one potential candidate could be Rasmus’ youngest son, Cyle. Cyle served as third-base coach for the Warriors in 2013. Tony said Cyle would not follow him to Florence.
"Cyle will not be leaving this area," he wrote. "It's his home and he loves this place. He'll continue to do lessons and keep developing the kids around here."
Rasmus cited the low numbers at Russell County and the reliance on transfer students as reasons for his departure.
"If we had tryouts tomorrow, there wouldn't be 10 kids try out," he wrote. "(It's a) 5A school with 1A numbers. ... I had 9 players in grades 9-12 my first year. Ten my second year. Ninety percent of our players were transfers. We basically played with players cut from other schools."
The coach said that, with numbers like those at Smiths Station, he feels like his teams could have competed at an even higher level than they did during his tenure.
"I've turned many job offers over the years hoping for a chance at the Smiths job," he said. "When it became evident they wouldn't even consider me, it was time to move on. No need to keep waiting around. I always felt like I could have won five state championships out of every 10 years at Smiths Station. They have had the best talent around here for the last 15 years."
Not that his teams didn't have plenty of success.
Russell County won area all 13 years under Rasmus and a state championship in 2005. It was state runner-up in 2006. Most recently, in 2013, the Warriors won 35 consecutive games and made an appearance in the Class 5A state semifinals, where they lost to eventual state champion Spanish Fort in three games.
Florence struggled in 2013, its third season under former coach Warren Fowler. Rasmus said players in the area have fled to private schools, however, two of which have won state championships.
"The players are there," Rasmus wrote, noting he hopes that once Florence proves it can contend with the other teams in the area, the talent will return to the team.
Rasmus said that, while he has accepted the Florence High job, he still has to be voted in at the next school board meeting.
Rasmus will leave a visible stamp on the Russell County program, as well, as he became the namesake for the team’s field prior to the 2013 season. The school will keep his name on the field, and Belcher said it is well deserved.
“I think he deserves his name on that field more than anybody,” Belcher said. “He gave everything he had to the program and gave all his players a chance to play at a high level.”
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.