VALDOSTA -- When Rick Darlington was hired as Valdosta High's new football coach, there were three men he knew he wanted to bring with him. But given the caliber of coaches they were, he felt he'd be fortunate just to get one of them.
He got all three.
Welton Coffey, Richie Marsh and Jeff Rolson are the newest members of the Valdosta High coaching staff. They bring with them many years of foobtall experience and knowledge. All have been head coaches at other high schools. Darlington couldn't be more pleased to see these three men on his staff.
"I hired these three because of the kind of men they are," Darlington said. "They are men of tremendous character, the kind of men I want in this football program. And they also happen to be excellent football coaches."
Coffey and Marsh left head coaching jobs at winning programs in Florida-- their alma maters, no less-- to come to Valdosta. Rolson was Darlington's likely successor at Apopka High. But for all three, the chance to coach at Valdosta was enough to lure them away from their home state.
All three are already in Valdosta, already hard at work with their coaching duties. They are helping Darlington and the other coaches prepare for spring practice, which will run April 14-26.
Coffey comes from Raines High in Jacksonville, the 1997 4A state champions and a North Florida football power. Coffey will be the offensive coordinator and work with the running backs.
"Welton Coffey's going to add a lot to our program offensively," Darlington said. "He'll also add to the program because he has a lot of character, and a lot of charisma. He's special. All three are."
Rolson was Darlington's defensive coordinator at Apopka, and followed him to Valdosta. He was a head coach in Illinois and Missouri before that. He will be the assistant head coach. He and Marsh will lead the defense.
"Jeff was with me in Apopka, and I was pleased when he decided to come here," Darlington said. "He and Richie Marsh will be basically co-coordinators on defense.
"Jeff was a major reason for us winning the state championship in 2001 at Apopka. Our defense averaged 174 pounds, with no one bigger than 189 on the whole defense, but we played excellent defense that year."
Marsh was the head coach at Bartow before coming here. He'll work with the defense, and in the weight room. His strength programs at Bartow were among the state's best, winning three state weightlifting titles. He has been supervising the weight room work during morning workouts.
"Richie knows how to get kids strong, and he's a heck of a good football coach," Darlington said. "He'll be in the weight room, along with Coach Rolson and Coach (Bob) Bolton, and that will be a lot of eyes in there pushing the kids."
Darlington and Marsh have been friends for many years, through coaching in Central Florida, and through Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which both have been active in for years. He also had a big assist in Darlington's coaching career.
"Richie was the guy who encouraged me to take the job at Apopka (in 1999) when I was having doubts," Darlington said. "After talking to him, I took the job at Apopka, and three years later, we won a state championship.
"I've always admired how Richie's done things in the weight room and on the field, and off the field as well."
Darlington is very glad to have two former head coaches on his staff.
"A head coach sees things differently than an assistant coach," Darlington said. "With these guys, I don't have to tell them to do certain things. They sometimes see it before I do."
Their talents will be on display when Valdosta's spring practice begins April 14.
"That's when we felt was the best time period to have spring practice," Darlington said. "That's when we'll be able to get most of our players there. We may not have all the baseball players, but we'll have all the track guys and all the soccer players. I had to decide who I was going to lose, and I couldn't lose track (which has a number of his players)."
The coaches from Mike O'Brien's staff remain Wildcat assistants, at least for now. O'Brien and retired defensive coordinator Charles Tarpley are the only members of last year's varsity coaching staff not working with the team now. Other coaches may leave after the school year, when their teaching contracts end, but none have gone so far.
"They're still here," Darlington said. "No one has come to me and said they want to leave. And I haven't seen a reason yet why I wouldn't want to keep them around. If one of these coaches wants to leave to better their career, I understand. But they're all still here."
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