After 33 years of being on the sidelines and breaking down film at night and on the weekends, Rick Tomberlin figured it was time for something else in his life.
The veteran football coach, who won three state titles at Washington County High School and has spent the last three seasons leading the Effingham County program, has announced his retirement. He informed ECHS Principal Yancy Ford and his coaches and players Tuesday.
“I’ve been doing this for 33 years,” Tomberlin said Tuesday morning. “I’m going out on my terms. It’s just time.”
In three seasons with the Rebels, Tomberlin posted a 14-17 mark, just missing out on the playoffs in his first campaign. The Rebels made the Class AAAAA state playoffs this year after losing to eventual state runner-up Ware County in what was essentially the region championship game.
“It’s been a wonderful three years,” Tomberlin said. “I didn’t come here to stay just three years.”
Tomberlin will go to work for Baker Sporting Goods out of Jacksonville, Fla., as their Georgia sales representative and also for the Bigger, Faster, Stronger program. Tomberlin has conducted clinics for Bigger, Faster, Stronger in the past and has used their training regimen for years. Using Bigger, Faster, Stronger, Tomberlin won five state team weightlifting titles and set 28 national records.
With Bigger, Faster, Stronger, Tomberlin will conduct clinics to certify coaches in weight training and also will be involved in character development.
Tomberlin’s retirement announcement came almost three years to the day he was introduced as Effingham County’s head football coach. He expressed his appreciation to Ford and ECHS athletic director Tim Hood.
“He’s the best principal I’ve ever had,” Tomberlin said. “Tim is a good friend and a great defensive coordinator and a great athletic director.”
In the four seasons before Tomberlin returned to Effingham — he began his career as an ECHS assistant — the Rebels went 17-23 and their last playoff appearance was in 2005.
“I felt like our football program needed a boost, and I think he provided that,” Ford said of Tomberlin. “There was excitement. The kids believed in what he brought to the program. They believed in him, and he put together a great coaching staff.”
Ford said the football program is headed in the right direction. Though Tomberlin’s retirement surprised him, Ford didn’t hold the coach’s decision against him.
“I’m happy for him,” Ford said. “In this business, we all have to make decisions that we feel are best for our families and you can’t second-guess that. You have to respect a man who’s going to make a decision that’s best for his family.”
Ford was grateful for Tomberlin’s contributions to ECHS in his three years there.
“My philosophy is you hire good people and you allow them to work, and you support them along the way,” he said. “Rick has done a tremendous job for Effingham County. It’s kind of neat he’s made full circle and he finished his career here.
“He is not only a good football coach but he’s a good man and he’s done some great things for our school and program. He deserves the best that life has to offer. He’s been so good to these kids and this school, you can’t want anything less than the best for him. I’ve learned a lot from him. We’re going to miss him.”
Before he stepped down, Tomberlin was the 12th-winningest active coach in the state, according to statistics compiled by the Georgia High School Football Historians Association. Tomberlin ends his career with a 236-118 record, a .667 winning percentage.
During his 14 years at Washington County, the Golden Hawks won three state championships and finished as runner-up twice. He guided five different programs to the state playoffs and his teams made 19 postseason appearances.
“Effingham County is the best job I ever had,” he said. “I love it here.”
Tomberlin said he will remain an Effingham County resident. “I’m never going to have another coaching job,” he said. “I’ll still help kids and certify coaches. I think it opens up doors for me.”
What also weighed heavily in the decision was the timing of the opportunities. Tomberlin didn’t think those offers would still be around in a couple of years.
“It’s been something I’ve been thinking about for a long time,” he said.
“It’s time for me to do something different with my life and my career,” he said. “I’m still going to help coaches and kids.”
Tomberlin’s first head coaching job was at Treutlen County in 1983 and he spent two seasons at Jenkins before coaching at Jonesboro for three seasons. The school had won six games in four years and was winless the year before Tomberlin arrived.
He later coached at Lowndes and then went to Washington County before spending four seasons at Valdosta. Tomberlin said he’s also proud of the associations he made with coaches and players throughout the years.
“I’m proud of the fact every school I’ve been to, every job I’ve taken, has been better off when I left than before I got there,” he said. “At Jenkins, we beat Benedictine for the first time in 20 years. Here, we made the playoffs for the first time in seven years.”
Ford said he will meet with Superintendent Randy Shearouse to go over a timetable on hiring Tomberlin’s successor.
“I want to move fast because I don’t want our kids to miss a beat,” he continued.
The vacancy should draw a strong field of candidates, Ford pointed out, and he believes the school and school system have a lot to offer.