It was at South Cobb, his alma mater, and, when looking back, he’s not so sure he would have hired himself if given the final decision.
“I wasn’t ready. I was raw,” he said. “But it was great that someone was giving me the opportunity.”
Queen was taking over the program from Scott Jones, who left to start the Kennesaw Mountain program after South Cobb went 9-2 in the 1999 season and 28-23 in his five years. Queen, however, was more than grateful for the chance to coach the team he played for from 1986-89.
South Cobb was Queen’s first head-coaching job, and when it comes to the Eagles’ program, that seems to be the rule more than the exception. It’s also a good reason why the Eagles’ program has become the “Cradle of Coaches” for Cobb County.
The name is borrowed from Miami University of Ohio, which has had a long tradition of having some of the nation’s best college and professional coaches pace its sidelines at one time or another — including former Ohio State coaches Woody Hayes and Jim Tressel, along with Michigan’s Bo Schembechler. Add to that the Cleveland Browns’ Paul Brown, Baltimore’s John Harbaugh and New Orleans’ Sean Payton and it becomes a “Who’s Who” in a hurry.
While South Cobb’s list of coaches may not match the esteem of Miami’s, the Eagles’ program has had a positive impact on the coaching ranks in and around Cobb County.
In addition to Queen, who’s now at North Cobb, and Jones, who spent 10 years at Kennesaw Mountain and is now the coach at North Paulding, Kell’s Derek Cook and former longtime South Cobb coaches Frank Worthy and Billy Peek all were first-time head coaches when they took the Eagles’ reins.
And all five were excited last Friday when current South Cobb coach Ed Koester and his staff registered the 300th victory of the program’s history, because they all knew they had a hand in the team reaching the milestone.
In fact, those six have been responsible for 230 of the team’s 300 wins, and they represent 45 of the team’s 60-year history — including the last 30.
Considering in each instance going back to Peek, who went 50-82 after becoming head coach in 1982, an assistant that was already on staff was tabbed to take over the head-coaching duties when the previous coach left.
It has made for a remarkable level of stability in an area like Austell, which has become more and more of a transient area for families and students over the last 20 years. And it has helped South Cobb avoid the extended periods of losing that has cost Osborne its identity and may be threatening Pebblebrook and Campbell, despite the Spartans’ 2-0 mark to begin this season.
Despite ever-changing demographics, South Cobb has always had one constant — producing good football players to make the job attractive to future head coaches.
“You get to coach athletes — a lot of athletic kids,” said Cook, the head coach from 2006-07. “You get a fair amount of kids that have had to scrap for things their whole life, so when they show up, they show up to compete.”
Worthy, who coached from 1962-76, was blessed with a number of big-time players that would eventually play in the Southeastern Conference including running back Ronny Wheeler, who was a three-time letter-winner at Tennessee, and Steve Sleek, a linebacker and guard that would go on to be a team captain for Georgia in 1972.
Worthy, who spent another decade-plus as an assistant principal at South Cobb after his coaching tenure, used that talent to become the Eagles’ winningest coach, posting an 86-59-7 record and winning two of the three region titles in team history.
“From 1964 to 1972, we were pretty strong,” Worthy said. “We had people that liked to play football. At the time, people down (in Austell) didn’t have anything to do other than play football.”
Worthy said his sweetest memory came in 1969, when the Eagles won their first region title. To do it, they had to beat Marietta at Northcutt Stadium — something Worthy said had never happened before.
In the final game of the season, South Cobb scored on fourth-and-goal from the 1 for one touchdown, then ran a halfback pass for another to beat the Blue Devils 14-7. Players carried Worthy off the field after the victory, and the Eagles won their first region title under Worthy (the next came two years later).
In more recent times, the talent pool was picked up by the late Kenny McKinley, who starred at South Carolina and became the only Eagle to have played in the NFL, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association.
McKinley starred in South Cobb’s most famous game — a first-round playoff loss to Collins Hill in 2004. The Eagles fell 70-68 in seven overtimes, despite McKinley’s five touchdown passes.
The following year, Queen, who went 36-28 during his six years, guided the team to the last of its three region titles.
“I loved it,” Queen said. “I grew up there, and going back to your alma mater is a coach’s dream.
“But, after not being able to get (a championship) as a player, it was great to give something back because it meant a lot to the community. And being able to share that with them was special.”
After a few down years, Koester has brought the program back to its winning ways. South Cobb is 2-0 heading into tonight’s game at Kennesaw Mountain, and it’s made the playoffs in consecutive seasons. Even more important to Koester than being the coach that won the 300th game was being the one won the first playoff game in team history — just last season at Windsor Forest.
Koester has had athletes just like his predecessors had — quarterback Stephon Masha and running back Chauncey Ingram are exciting to watch. But can they win the Eagles their fourth region championship? That’s still to be determined.
South Cobb doesn’t have the number of coaches, the facilities or the financial backing other programs have in today’s age, but that’s OK to Koester, because he knows there’s a bigger purpose for him and his staff.
“It’s a measure of pride that our coaches were able to have success when the playing field isn’t level,” he said. “But my proudest moment is to see our kids come back with college degrees.”