“Coach Tomberlin could probably have any job in the state of Georgia. He felt divine intervention, that he was led here. We feel we’re very, very fortunate to have him on our staff.”
— Yancy Ford, Effingham County High School principal
“He’s excited about it. We know he can lead Effingham County High School in the right direction. We feel like he’s the right person.”
— Superintendent Randy Shearouse on Rick Tomberlin
“That’s the one thing I’m happiest about. We have someone with the reputation he has. He’ll put us back in the spotlight. I think he’ll do a great job. I’m extremely happy with this decision.”
— Lamar Allen, chairman of the Effingham County Board of Education and member of the ECHS sideline crew
Rick Tomberlin’s introductory news conference was delayed by nearly 20 minutes Thursday morning — the new Effingham County High School football coach was busy talking to each of the Rebels players individually.
The veteran coach made his return to ECHS official, where he coached early in his career.
“To say I’m glad to be here would be a tremendous understatement,” Tomberlin said. “There’s no other place in the state I’d rather be than Effingham County High School and to be an Effingham County Rebel.”
ECHS administrators and officials were equally delighted to have the search end with a coach who brings 222 wins and three state championships in 27 seasons.
“I wanted to get Effingham back to a storied tradition,” Principal Yancy Ford said. “We’re excited. I think it’s important that we as an administration, as a faculty, as a student body and as a community rally behind Coach Tomberlin. His focus and philosophy is not just going to make us a better football team, it’s going to make us a better school and a better community.”
Tomberlin began his run as a head coach at Treutlen County in 1983. He spent two years at Jenkins in Savannah, then was head coach at Jonesboro and Lowndes for three years each.
From Lowndes, he went to Washington County and was 152-31 in 14 seasons.
“I’ve always had a great, healthy respect for Effingham County,” he said. “I spent 14 years in Washington County, and Effingham County reminds me a lot of Washington County. I sense that family atmosphere. I want to be a part of it and hope we can win championships.”
Tomberlin has a reputation for pushing a work ethic in the weight room.
“The pros draft their talent. Colleges recruit their talent,” he said. “At this level, we have to develop our talent. First of all, we have to recruit our hallways. We want to help them become bigger, faster, stronger, quicker and a better student, help him set goals and reach their potential.”
He cited his own efforts in the weight room while he was at Florida State.
“That enabled me to play,” he said. “We can’t sit around and hope we have natural ability. We have to develop it.”
Tomberlin also noted what his fellow coaches said at last weekend’s state championship games about what it took to get to the Georgia Dome.
“If you’re going to be good, there’s a price to be paid,” he said. “You’ve got to really build it with a solid foundation. We’re not going to play anybody stronger than us or in better shape.”
Tomberlin also is a believer in defense winning championships and in a run-based offense.
“If you’re going to win, you’ve got to play great defense,” he said. “But we’ve got to be able to play defense first. You’ve also got to be able to run the football. We like to say, ‘we’re going to rattle the chains and bring the pain.’ It’s football — it’s a man’s game. Dancing’s a contact sport. Football’s a collision sport.”
Tomberlin spent the previous four years at Valdosta but was told in the middle of the season his contract would not be renewed. He didn’t want to talk much about his time in Winnersville, but he did boast about the accomplishments his players made in the classroom.
“We want our athletes to be strong academically,” he said. “The one thing I’m real proud of, we had 80 percent of players make all As and Bs. Our football players were our best students at Valdosta. We try to help them go to college. We work real hard on trying to get our players college scholarships.”
At one point, the only school in the state to have more players sign letters of intent than Washington County under Tomberlin was Southwest DeKalb. Tomberlin estimates about 150 of his players have gone to play college football.
Tomberlin has met some of the current staff and expected to talk with all of them before the end of Thursday. He said he has some coaches who want to come to Effingham.
“Before I do anything, I want to talk with the guys here,” he said. “I know what it’s like to be in limbo.”
Ford and Tomberlin said they are trying to work out a starting date for Tomberlin with the Valdosta school system. They have a target date of between Feb. 1 and March 1, and Tomberlin said he will be at ECHS several times before his first day on the job. Tomberlin’s wife Angela still works at Valdosta High School.
During an informal visit a few weeks ago, the Tomberlins even rode down McCall Road, where they bought a house while he was a Rebels coach in the 1980s. While some things about Effingham have changed in his more than 25 years away, some have not, he said.
“If somebody had blindfolded me and brought me here and turned me loose, I don’t know that I would have recognized the place,” he said. “It’s still the same beautiful area I remember and the people are still wonderful and warm. But it really has grown.”
Tomberlin also came away impressed with the school and the surroundings on his interview.
“I think it was divine intervention,” he said. “The Good Lord opened these doors and shoved me in this direction. I can be stubborn at times. But I’ve got a real peace about this. Mr. Ford with his enthusiasm and can-do attitude really appealed to me. It was just a great fit. It had all the things I was looking for. I think Effingham has a lot going for it, academically and athletically. And the people have been outstanding.”
He also expressed his desire for this to be his last stop as a coach — though he hopes the end is nowhere in sight.
“I told the players and I meant it: I’m not going to have another job. This is it for me,” Tomberlin said. “I hope I can stay here forever and retire here. You’re not going to hear about me applying for a job somewhere else. The only thing I promise is we’re going to work really hard. No coach is going to outwork me.
“I’m not ever going to say I’m the smartest coach,” Tomberlin said, “but no one is going to work harder. Nobody wants to be here more than I do.”
ECHS interviewed current Rebels assistants Buddy Holder and Tony Orsini, along with West Forsyth coach Chris Johnson, a former baseball and football assistant at South Effingham. Windsor Forest head coach Mike Martin also interviewed, and the school had informal conversations with J.T. Pollock of Appling County, Rome’s Sid Fritts and former Georgia Southern University offensive coordinator and Peach County head coach Rance Gillespie.
There were more than 85 applicants for the job, Ford said, “anywhere from South Carolina to North Dakota State.”
“He’s got some history here with us,” said ECHS athletic director Tim Hood. “There were several schools in the state interested in talking with Mr. Tomberlin about their positions, and he has chosen Springfield to be hopefully his final stop in a long and illustrious career.”