For 12 years, 10 as a head coach, Tommy Parks has been a part of the Harris County family. Now, the man who presided over the most successful era of the football program’s history is going home.
Parks accepted an offer to become the Upson-Lee High (Thomaston, Ga.) head coach on Friday, returning to the community where he grew up.
“I’ve had an opportunity to serve this community in Harris County for 12 years,” he said. “Now, I have an opportunity to go back and serve the community that served me when I was coming up.”
Parks graduated high school for the R.E. Lee Institute in Thomaston, where he played on the 1988 Class AA state championship team.
With his exit, the two reigning All-Bi-City coaches of the year are no longer coaching in the area (Parks, 2012, and Mark Rose, 2013).
He will replace Tommy Watson at Upson-Lee, who compiled a 23-38 record in six years at the helm, making the playoffs once in 2011. Parks certainly has the credentials to suggest he can turn the program around.
His Tigers were only .500, 54-54, during his 10 seasons at the helm, but experienced the bulk of their success over the past two seasons.
In successive years, 2012-13, Harris County set program records for wins, eight and nine, respectively. It won a region championship in 2012 and advanced to the state quarterfinals for the first time in program history. The Tigers also hosted another first-round playoff game in 2013, advancing to the second round where it lost to eventual state champion Creekside.
Parks was named 2013 Region 1-AAAAA coach of the year and 2012 All-Bi-City coach of the year.
“There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle that made us succeed here,” Parks said of Harris County. “Obviously, you have to have kids who work hard and believe in the coaching staff. If the kids at Upson-Lee can have the desire and work ethic Harris County did, I’m a lucky man.”
His players recognize the work he put in, as well. Former defensive back A.J. Howard, who played his last season in 2013 before accepting a scholarship and enrolling early at Appalachian State, said Parks got him where he is.
“He’s a great coach,” he said in a message to the Ledger-Enquirer. “He helped put me in the position that I am today.”
He will face a similar challenge at Upson-Lee to the one he faced at Harris County. While the Knights have had some level of success in the past, reaching the playoffs in six consecutive seasons from 2000-05, their recent history has been more challenging. They have had just two winning seasons in the eight years since Mike Majors was their head coach. During that period, they have made just one playoff trip, a one-and-done affair in 2011.
Parks said his approach to this challenge will be the same as his approach over the last few years.
“It’s probably going to be the approach I had when I left (Harris County),” he said. “The staff I assembled at the end of my career here was probably the best that I ever had. So the first job is to assemble a staff like the one I had here. If I could, I’d take all (my assistants) with me.”
The decision to leave was a difficult one, Parks said, calling Friday “bittersweet” and talking at length about the players and coaches he worked with at Harris County.
“Probably the most difficult part is knowing that you’re leaving kids who trust you,” he said. “You ask them to come to work every day and give their best effort, and now you feel like you’re abandoning them a little bit. But you hope they understand, and I know they do. It’s part of life. There are changes, and you just hope you make the right decision for the right reason.”
Parks has been officially approved by the Thomaston-Upson school board. He will begin work at his new job as soon as he is officially granted a release from his contract with Harris County.