Carroll County coach: I just felt like it was time

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Tom Hale explains decision to step down after 15 years, 78 wins.

By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor

HILLSVILLE –– Tom Hale set a pretty high standard for himself when he took over the Carroll County High School football program 15 years ago.

“I always told myself that when I had two losing seasons in a row I would resign,” he said.

Considering Carroll County had put together back-to-back winning seasons just four times in the previous 30 years, Hale’s 15-year tenure is pretty remarkable.

And it actually took three sub-.500 years for Hale to make the decision. Hale informed his players following a season-ending 77-28 win over Patrick County on Nov. 8 that this season would be his last.

“I started to [resign] last year, but these kids were working as hard as they were and I knew we would have a pretty good group of kids coming back,” he said.

Hale called this year’s overall group of skill players the best he’s had at Carroll, but the Cavaliers finished at 2-8 for the second year in a row, its first in the highly-competitive River Ridge District.

“We were coming down the stretch here, we’re headed toward our third straight losing season, and I just felt like, I’ve been here 15 years and at this point I’m starting to feel negative,” he said. “I’m too demanding of my coaches and my players to come into it feeling that way.

“We demand a lot from these kids and I feel that is the No. 1 reason our numbers are so low. You’re going to be a part of our weightlifting program in school, after school, in the summer, and if you can’t do that, you can’t play. But I’m just thinking it’s time. I think I’ve done the best that I could do. I couldn’t work any harder, I couldn’t ask my coaches or my kids to work any harder, so maybe a different approach is what’s needed here.”

The decision touches off a search process to replace the winningest and longest-tenured coach the school has had. Once the resignation becomes official the position will be advertised and the search will include both inside and outside the school system.

“We want to start as soon as we can,” said CCHS principal Chuck Thompson, whose father, Tommy Thompson, was the school’s first coach and for whom the football field is named. “Obviously the quicker you can get somebody in front of your kids the better, but we’re not going to fill it quickly just to fill it. We’re going to conduct a thorough search to get the right person.”

Thompson said the right candidate would be energetic, have a great knowledge of the game and be able to connect with the students.

“If you’ve got someone with great knowledge but can’t connect, you’re getting just half a candidate,” he said, “and if you’ve got someone who can relate to the kids but doesn’t have that knowledge of the game, you’ve got half a candidate.”

Hale compiled a 78-81 record at CCHS and had an overall winning record at the school until the sixth game of this year. His teams averaged six wins per season and suffered just one sub-.500 year in his first 12 season after the program had averaged a fraction more than three wins through its first 30 years.

Carroll County’s first season in the River Ridge was a difficult one. Both wins were against non-district teams.

“I’m not knocking our kids because they worked their tails off, but when they’re better than you, they’re better than you,” he said. “We’re 2-8 and we’re scoring on peoples’ first teams. We just weren’t able to stop them consistently. And when you play teams more athletic than you, especially defensively, they can make you look bad.”

Hale said that the decision was completely his.

A Joel Hicks protégé at Pulaski County, Hale guided Carroll to its first 10-win season and a Region IV runner-up showing in 2004, and the only two playoff wins in school history. But what he said he is proudest of has little to do with wins and losses.

“I felt like that people knew that when they played Carroll, they had to be prepared,” he said. “They knew we would be competitive. I feel like I instilled a program here where the kids knew what they had to do to be successful.

“I’m proud of the loyalty of the people who have worked for me. I don’t think people would say anything about me that wasn’t true, either positively or negatively. These guys respect me and they’ve been very, very loyal.”