By Thomas Grant Jr.
The (Orangeburg) Times and Democrat Senior Sports Writer
There will be new leadership on the football sidelines at two Orangeburg Consolidated District 5 schools this coming fall.
Following a Thursday meeting with District 5 Superintendent Melvin Smoak, it was learned Tommy Brown would not coach the Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School football team next school year.
A statement released Friday by Greg Carson, executive assistant to the superintendent, said Brown will "carry out the duties of athletics director exclusively for the coming year," a position he has held since 2001.
"We want to improve the quality of the overall athletics program at Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School, and we believe that Coach Brown will be up to the challenges that will be presented in taking that program to the levels of excellence we strive to achieve in Orangeburg Consolidated School District 5," the statement said.
While Carson said no search committee has been formed to hire Brown's successor, the two names most mentioned by those close to the O-W program are Aiken head coach Cary Johnson and former North, Calhoun County, Fairfield Central and Benedict College head coach and South Carolina State alumnus Tony Felder.
The decision to reassign Brown comes on the heels of the district confirming a coaching vacancy at North High School following a 1-18 showing in two seasons under Tadgh Weed.
Weed's predecessor, Samuel Pough, was also reportedly still awaiting the final word on an evaluation which could determine his future as both AD and head football coach at Bowman High School.
Pough posted a 6-16 record in two seasons at Bowman but made the playoffs both years. An All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference safety at South Carolina State under Willie Jeffries, Brown spent 11 seasons at O-W and guided the team to their lone Region 3-AAAA title under his leadership in 1995.
He went 38-23 the first four seasons, two with quarterback Woodrow Dantzler at the helm.
Following Dantzler's graduation, Brown's fortunes with the Bruins started to change.
Despite continually turning out numerous college and pro talent such as defensive backs Arturo Freeman, Deveron Harper, Kevin Johnson and Ryan Hemby, linemen Alex Barron, Jonas Seawright and Corey Haynes, wide receiver Jackie Robinson and Marc Smiley, linebackers Rahim El-Amin, Derrick Butler and Derek Harrison and quarterbacks Dantzler, James Murdaugh and Russell Hemby and many others, O-W went 32-38 the past six seasons for Brown with just one winning season over .500.
After a 4-8 season in 2001 in which he used a totally revamped staff, the Bruins finished 4-6 overall and 1-4 in Region 4-AAAA this past season. They also missed the playoffs for the first time in recent memory, losing their final three games by a 156-70 margin, all played without an injured Hemby.
For all his football struggles of late, Brown still inspired loyalty and respect from his peers, former players and colleagues.
In an August 2002 interview with The T&D, Calhoun County head coach and former Bulldog teammate James Stokes described Brown as a prime example of someone who has used "discipline, assertiveness and dedication" to send his student-athletes into the world as graduates and productive citizens.
"Coach Brown is a wonderful coach," said Butler in a December 2002 T&D interview. "Not just a wonderful coach, but he's a wonderful man. He cares about his players, not just as players, but as people, as human beings. I think he's a wonderful coach. I know the last couple of years they had a lot of problems that maybe he probably had no control over. But, sometimes it happens like that sometimes, and I think he's still a wonderful coach.
"No matter what the record says, I don't think it really tells what type of coach he is, and he's smart, dedicated to his program, and it's evident in the success he's put out in school so far. There's no doubt about his ability and his knowledge of the game."
"I thoroughly enjoyed all four years (working with Brown) and thought he was very professional," assistant coach and head baseball coach Tripp Fogle said. "A wonderful Christian man and I'm sure the district has their best interest in mind. That doesn't necessarily mean I agree or disagree or whatever, but I think he did a wonderful job.
"The O-W community needs to understand that he was one of the great ambassadors for high school football. Speaking with sales reps and everything else, I rarely heard anyone say anything negative about him at all. He just got caught up in a situation which was out of his control, and I don't think what he did or didn't do could have changed the outcome of what you call the problems we've had at O-W the last few years. I think it was other factors that worked into the equation that he didn't necessarily control, which were out of his hands