He’s ready for a change

By Kevin Eckleberry Sports Editor

November 7, 2013

Donnie Branch still wants to coach football.

He just doesn’t want to be a head coach any longer.

Branch made that clear during a press conference on Thursday where he announced that he’ll be stepping down as the LaGrange head coach at the end of the school year.

Branch said he hopes to be a member of the new head coach’s staff.

“I plan on continuing to stay at LaGrange High School, and I also plan to continue to coach at LaGrange High School,” Branch said. “I’m basically moving aside. I’m not moving on. I love LaGrange High School. I’ve been here since 1986, through a lot of great times. I’m a Granger, will always be a Granger. I love the school, I love our players.

“But at this time, I feel like this is a great opportunity to bring in some new blood. Again, I want to be a part of the process of getting this program back to where it needs to be.”

LaGrange will likely finish its season with tonight’s game against Carrollton.

Branch has been the Grangers’ head coach for the past three seasons, and he has been on the coaching staff since 1986.

From 1994 through 2010, Branch was the defensive coordinator, and his defenses were a key reason the Grangers won state championships in 2001, 2003 and 2004,

Branch was also an assistant coach on the 1991 team that won a state and national championship.

In his three seasons as head coach, the Grangers are 13-19, and they’re 1-2 in the playoffs.

The Grangers head into tonight’s game with a 3-6 record, but while Branch said the win-loss record is disappointing, he said that’s not the reason he’s stepping aside.

He just figures he’ll more content to be an assistant coach.

“I miss my involvement on a day-to-day basis, hands on, with the players,” Branch said. “That’s what I miss. That’s what I’m really good at. I’m really good at sitting in the press box on Friday night and being a defensive coordinator, and then on Sunday through Thursday, coaching guys, especially defensive guys.”

Branch said being the head coach at LaGrange is “a great job, it’s just not a great job for me right now. Right now, I want to coach.”

Branch also stressed that the decision to step down was entirely his own.

“I also want it to be real clear that this is 100 percent my decision,” Branch said. “It’s a family decision. It’s a personal decision. And I just feel like I’ll be better served to do what I do best, which is to coach football, and teach at LaGrange High School.”

Branch said that principal Penny Johnson and athletic director Jamie Schmitt “have supported me 100 percent the whole way. It wasn’t their decision. They support me in whatever I wanted to do. They wanted me to stay. They expressed that, yet they supported me in what I think is best.”

Branch also said he’ll continue to do everything he can for the players through the end of the school year, and after that he hopes to be a part of the new staff.

“I’ll continue to serve our players through the end of the school year, because there’s a lot to be done when the season ends,” Branch said. “Recruiting, trying to help our kids go to college, making sure their grades stay good, and do all the things that a head coach does, I’ll continue to do that.

“And I’ll continue to serve as whatever the new coach, whatever role he wants me in. I think I’m a pretty good assistant coach. I’m not an ego person, and I’ll be more than willing to be a part of the Granger family next year.”

Branch, a native of Anniston Alabama and a graduate of the University of North Alabama, came to LaGrange in 1986 after spending two seasons at Wheeler County High School in Alamo, Ga.

Branch joined the football staff in 1986 under Gary Guthrie, and he said he found out pretty quickly how special a place LaGrange was.

“I started serving LaGrange high School in 1986, and Gary Guthrie was the head coach,” Branch said. “Oliver Hunnicutt, who is LaGrange High School, was visiting, and eating lunch with us every day. I got to know those people, and all the traditions, and what it means to be a Granger.”

After Guthrie left, Steve Pardue took over for the 1994 season, and he made Branch his defensive coordinator.

Branch remained in that position until Pardue left following the 2010 season to join the staff at the University of Kentucky.

Branch oversaw some of the state’s top defenses during his tenure, and the Grangers were the Class AAA team of the 90s after winning three state titles and making it to the semifinals two other times.

Branch was also the school’s head baseball coach for more than 20 years, and his teams won more than 500 games, and the Grangers won a state championship in 2004.

In 2009, Branch was inducted into the Georgia Dugout Club Hall of Fame.

Branch said his entire time at LaGrange, no matter what capacity he’s been serving is, has been “real positive”.

“I’ve personally got to be a part of four state championships. I was calling the defenses on three of them in football,” Branch said. “I got to work alongside some great head coaches. I was blessed. I got to be the head coach for 20-something years in baseball, and got to win a state championship.”

As for this group of players, Branch hopes they have learned a lot this season and will go on to be successful on the field, and off.

“No matter how many games we won, there are a lot of great kids in that locker room that we coach every day,” Branch said. “Wins and losses are nice, and they make everybody happy, but you can be real successful regardless, and we’ve got a lot of kids in there that are going to be successes.”