Cary head coach Mike Kirst, center, celebrates with his coaches and players following Broughton's football game at Cary on Friday, August 28, 2015. Cary won the game 10-7. Ray Black III newsobserver.com
Cary head coach Mike Kirst, center, celebrates with his coaches and players following Broughton's football game at Cary on Friday, August 28, 2015. Cary won the game 10-7. Ray Black III newsobserver.com

Orange County

These area high schools need new head football coaches. What’s next for each school?

By J. Mike Blake

mblake@newsobserver.com

March 28, 2018 10:47 AM

There are five head football coach openings in the PrepsNow 20-county coverage area. There are 12 changes total, with Apex, Cary, Corinth Holders, North Pitt, Northern Nash, South Garner and Heritage having filled their vacancies.

Here’s a look at each vacancy and some of the challenges that come with each job.

Note: teams are organized by classification first, then alphabetically.

APEX

Previous coach: Robert Graham (three seasons)

New coach: Britt Morton

What happened: It isn’t clear when Graham stopped being Apex’s head coach. Morton has spent the last three years in Georgia after coaching at Apex previously, and he’s an alumnus. He has 21 years of high school coaching experience, but this is his first head coaching job.

Record in 2017: 3-8

Record last 3 years: 9-23

The job: The last time the Cougars had a winning record was 2008, but the program was competitive last year and a few touchdowns away from a third-place finish in the South Wake Athletic Conference. Apex High lacked depth in recent years, thanks in part to its move off-campus to Green Level High while Apex is renovated. The school had fewer freshmen and sophomores than usual, to avoid overcrowding Green Level. Apex moves back to its original campus in the fall of 2019.

CARY

Previous coach: Mike Kirst (three seasons)

New coach: Jason Wilkes

What happened: Kirst resigned in mid-December to pursue a career in school administration. Cary announced on Feb. 5 that offensive coordinator Jason Wilkes, who was an assistant at Middle Creek from 2012-15, will be the next head coach.

Record in 2017: 4-7

Record last 3 years: 7-25

The job: The last time the Imps had a winning record was 2011, but the program made a three-game improvement from 2016 to 2017. Under the new playoff format, Cary would need only to finish fourth in the Triangle 6 4A Conference – which it did this season, before the new format was implemented – to make the postseason for the first time since 2012.

CORINTH HOLDERS

Previous coach: Bubba Williams (three seasons)

New coach: Adam Khavari

What happened: Williams resigned in December for what he said was a job opportunity outside of education. Khvari, previously the Pirates’ defensive backs coach for two years, was also a defensive coordinator at Enloe under now-Green Hope coach David Green.

Record in 2017: 3-7

Record last 3 years: 15-19

The job: The Pirates missed the playoffs last season for the second time since the school began varsity football play in 2010. Corinth Holders is the largest school in Johnston County and plays in one of the toughest area football conferences, paired with Wake Forest and Heritage among others in the Northern Athletic 4A Conference. Khavari is just the third head coach in school history.

Corinth Holders head coach Bubba Williams, during South Johnston's football game against Corinth Holders on October 30, 2015.
Damon Thomas newsobserver.com

HERITAGE

Previous coach: Dewayne Washington (three seasons)

New coach: Wallace Clark

What happened: Washington announced last week he was resigning to spend more time on his business – DWG Property Services – and with family. Defensive coordinator Wallace Clark was hired this week.

Record in 2017: 12-2

Record last 3 years: 28-12

The job: The Huskies are coming off their best three-year stretch in school history and have gone toe-to-toe with crosstown rival and two-time 4AA state champion Wake Forest. Heritage had an experienced team this year and sent players to Duke, N.C. State and Virginia Tech, but the JV program has done well in recent years. Clark is the third coach in school history and has been at the school since it opened.

Heritage's head coach Dewayne Washington.
Dean Strickland

SOUTH GARNER

Previous coach: N/A

What happened: The new high school opens next fall. Daniel Finn was brought in from Southeast Raleigh to lead the new program.

Record in 2017: N/A

Record last 3 years: N/A

The job: Finn is the first coach hired, other than the athletic director, so he can get started on offseason workouts as soon as possible. South Garner’s school attendance zone is a promising one for football. It will affect future conference foes Garner, Middle Creek and Fuquay-Varina, and all three are pretty good at football.

SOUTHEAST RALEIGH

Previous coach: Daniel Finn

New coach: N/A

What happened: Finn went down the road to start the South Garner program.

Record in 2017: 4-7

Record last 3 years: 17-18

The job: Losing Finn, the school's all-time leader in wins, will hurt. Between the time he stepped aside in 2011 until he came back in 2016, the Bulldogs went 4-7 three times and 6-6 once. Last year's team was young, going 4-7, but three of its losses were by three points or less.

EAST CHAPEL HILL

Previous coach: Ray Hartsfield (one year)

New coach: N/A

What happened: Hartsfield, also the school’s boys’ basketball coach, was serving as a one-year interim head coach.

Record in 2017: N/A

Record last 3 varsity years: 2-31

The job: East Chapel Hill had just two seniors in the program last year, so the school made the decision to play a JV schedule only, build some depth, generate interest among underclassmen and hope for a fresh start. It paid off with more players signing up to play, and the team went 6-3-1, even beating the JV teams from Northern Durham and Southern Durham. Hartsfield was the fifth head coach in six years.

East Chapel Hill coach, Ray Hartsfield, talks to Marquette Bowers (74) during the JV football game between the East Chapel Hill Wildcats and the Carrboro Jaguars, which was played in Carrboro on Thursday, August 24, 2017.
Christine Richman newsobserver.com

LEE COUNTY

Previous coach: Burton Cates (nine seasons)

New coach: N/A

What happened: After 310 wins, Cates is stepping aside. He won at least eight games in each of the last six seasons and went 24-3 over the last two.

Record in 2017: 12-1

Record last 3 years: 32-7

The job: Cates, who recently had the stadium named after him at his former stomping grounds, Eastern Randolph High School, built a perennial winner at Lee County. Whoever gets the keys to the program inherits a lot of good talent and good habits formed under his staff’s leadership. His nine seasons leading one team is a rare sight among Sandhills-area schools.

NORTHERN NASH

Previous coach: Randy Raper (five seasons)

New coach: Andrew Farriss

What happened: In December, Raper announced his retirement and was replaced immediately by his longtime assistant Andrew Farriss.

Record in 2017: 1-10

Record last 3 years: 9-25

The job: Raper came to Northern Nash five years ago after 22 seasons at conference foe Hunt. It proved difficult to try to replicate the success at Hunt – Raper went to three straight 3AA East finals from 2010-12 and was a state runner-up in 2004 – at Northern Nash, where Raper’s best seasons were 5-7 and 5-6. Farriss coached with Raper at Hunt from 2003-2012 and left there to become an assistant at Fike in 2016 and Northern Nash in 2017. The Knights were young last year and return a big group of rising seniors.

Northern Nash's coach Randy Raper calls the play during the football game with the Tarboro Vikings and the Northern Nash Knights high school in Tarboro N.C. on August 31, 2017.
Johnny Johnson newsobserver.com

BUNN

Previous coach: David Weathersby (one season)

New coach: Dale Murphy

What happened: Weathersby came to Bunn after doing the unthinkable at Bartlett Yancey – making the playoffs for the first time since 1994. But after one year, he was removed from his post. Murphy was promoted from JV head coach shortly thereafter.

Record in 2017: 8-4

Record last 3 years: 32-9

The job: Just three years ago, Bunn was playing for the 2AA state championship. It’s a tradition-rich program, always in the mix for a conference title and deep playoff run. Murphy is just the fourth different individual to lead the Wildcats since 1988.

J.F. WEBB

Previous coach: Tony Midgette (five seasons)

New coach: N/A

What happened: N/A

Record in 2017: 2-9

Record last 3 years: 7-26

The job: The Warriors haven’t been .500 since 2010, which is also the last time they made the playoffs. Last year was the school’s first in 2A, but it finished next-to-last. A big reason why is the amount of points the team allowed: 2012 is the last season Webb gave up less than 30 points per game.

NORTH LENOIR

Previous coach: Kim Brown (three seasons)

New coach: Jim Collins

What happened: Brown announced he would retire in February. Collins has one year of head coaching experience, going 11-3 at Edenton Holmes in 2014.

Record in 2017: 5-6

Record last 3 years: 13-21

The job: Though his time in Wheat Swamp was short, Brown led a major turnaround. In 2016, Brown had the Hawks within a game of winning their first football conference title in the school’s 53-year history. North Lenoir broke a 10-year playoff drought that same season. Collins was an assistant at R.J. Reynolds, then had a great season as head coach at Edenton Holmes, then moved back home to Michigan. He’s been coaching since 1987.

NORTH PITT

Previous coach: Garrett Wingate (one season)

New coach: Gregory Watford

What happened: Wingate was the interim head coach last season. The school hired Gregory Watford, who had gone 26-13 in his second stint at 1A Southeast Halifax, on Feb. 1. Watford will be making his eighth different head coaching stop since first getting the job at Southeast Halifax in 1992.

Record in 2017: 1-10

Record last 3 years: 4-29

The job: When head coach Brent Wooten left the school just a few weeks before last season, Wingate stepped in as a one-year interim. Prior to the last three seasons, the Panthers had made the playoffs in five straight seasons. Consistency is important: North Pitt will now be on its fourth head coach in as many seasons next fall.

SPRING CREEK

Previous/new coach: Daniel Robinson (one season)

What happened: Robinson was the interim head coach and was hired full-time

Record in 2017: 3-7

Record last 3 years: 8-26

The job: Robinson was named interim head coach close to the start of the season. The Gators moved up to 2A and into the state’s toughest conference, where Wallace-Rose Hill won the 2A title and East Duplin was runner-up in 2AA. A 3-1 start last year was the best in school history, but the Gators scored just four touchdowns in six conference games. He is just the third head coach since the school opened in 2001.

J. Mike Blake: @JMBpreps