VALDOSTA -- The Mike O'Brien era at Valdosta High is officially over, after 70 wins, a state championship, many ups and a few downs.

O'Brien was voted out as Valdosta High's head football coach and athletic director Tuesday night in a special board meeting, held at Valdosta City Hall's council chambers.

"Disappointed," a saddened O'Brien said about the decision. "I still don't really know why, don't understand why, was never told why. But it's a done deal. I knew it was a done deal when they told me (last Wednesday)."

Valdosta City Schools Superintendent Sam Allen gave the recommendation to dismiss O'Brien to the board.

"My recommendation is: That Coach Mike O'Brien be released as head football coach at Valdosta High School and as athletic director of the Valdosta City School System immediately, and that he continues his duties as a physical education and driver education teacher at Valdosta High School for the remainder of the 2003 school year," Allen's recommendation said.

"I further recommend that I be allowed to conduct a national search for a replacement immediately and to assemble a Search Committee to review applications and interview potential candidates for board consideration."

The board went into executive session at 7:03 p.m. and came out at 7:45 p.m., while the crowd in attendance waited for the vote.

The board -- chairman Dr. Joe Crane, Warren Lee, John Klimko, Dr. Neil Myers, Betty Rogers, Annie Fisher, Willie Jones, Ricky Rowe and Jeff Sikes -- then voted unanimously to approve Allen's recommendation.

There was no public discussion on the matter. Fans must wait until Jan. 13, the next scheduled board meeting, to ask any questions.

"The recommendation that I make to you tonight is the toughest recommendation that I have made since becoming superintendent of the Valdosta City Schools," Allen said to the board and the crowd. "It is one that I do not take lightly, and maybe most likely the one that will go down in history as one of the more unpopular recommendations that I have made during the 25 years that I have served in the Valdosta City School System."

Allen later added, "This recommendation is what I believe is best for the boys and girls of the Valdosta City School System."

The decision was not well received by most of the crowd in attendance Tuesday, most of whom had shown up in support of O'Brien. The crowd jeered while Allen made his recommendation and voiced its displeasure while the official votes were cast.

The angry reaction was somewhat expected. Several police officers were on hand to prevent things from getting out of control.

Afterward, many fans and former players consoled O'Brien and wished him and his family luck.

"All the people in the town who have supported me, I really appreciate that," O'Brien said after the called meeting. "There are a lot of good people in this town that have come out and supported me. And the kids have been great.

"It was a lot of people -- ex-players, parents, fans -- and it was from all sides of the community. And they did a great job playing for us, and have done a great job supporting us."

Several players were also on hand, including co-captain Marchello Richardson and quarterback Cedric Hatten, each there to support their coach. So was the entire Valdosta coaching staff.

In O'Brien's seven seasons as Valdosta's head coach, the Wildcats have gone 70-20-1 with one state championship. They also won or tied for four region championships in the past five years, including the last three. O'Brien was also an assistant coach under the late Nick Hyder for 15 years, during which time the Wildcats won six state and three national championships.

"I'm not ashamed of anything we've done. I'm not upset at anything we've done, because I know we did it the right way, and we did it the way it should be done," O'Brien said. "And the kids responded to that. They knew where we were coming from."

O'Brien is also out as athletic director -- one day after he was voted Region 1-AAAAA Athletic Director of the Year.

The official reasons for O





'Brien's dismissal remain a mystery. No reasons have been given -- to O'Brien or the public.

O'Brien, who has tenure, will stay on as a driver's education teacher at Valdosta, at least until he takes a coaching job elsewhere. After this school year, he will be just four years away from retirement.

The search for a new head coach and athletic director will begin immediately. Allen already has received a good number of applications for the job.

On Thursday, Allen will release the names of the search committee and the process that will be used in the search.

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