Photo by Robert Turner
Grainger Today Correspondent
RUTLEDGE – Last week, Grainger High School boys basketball coach Derrick Combs stepped down from his coaching duties. “I don’t know that there is a particular reason,” said Combs. “It’s just a feeling you get and after last season, I though it might be time.”
After talking with some people whose opinion he valued and trusted, he decided that he shouldn’t rush into anything. “It’s an emotional time after the season and you’re tired,” said Combs. After waiting through the summer and summer camps, he said he still wasn’t 100 percent sure, and waited until school and workouts started. At that time, he said he knew it was time, so he submitted his resignation.
Combs’ involvement in sports started early. As a student, he played middle school and high school basketball where his father, Ronnie, was an assistant coach. Steve Hopper was his coach in middle school. Derrick then played for Doug Morgan and Mark Huff, who is currently a successful coach and has won state championships in South Carolina. He was also coached by Mark Hammer and “Shorts” Wolfenbarger. “All my coaches influenced me and set a good example,” said Combs. “I saw them and thought that being a coach and having a positive impact on young people would be very rewarding.”
However, it appeared that he might not get that chance as he went into the business field after college and worked for about 10 years. The opportunity came for him to come back and be a teacher and a coach at Rutledge High School in 2001.
“Terry Acuff was the director of schools, and he gave me the opportunity,” said Combs, who was an assistant with his brother Kip until 2008, when Kip took a job in central office. It was at that time that Grainger High School opened, and Combs became the boys head basketball coach.
In the nine years as head coach of the Grizzlies, Combs compiled a record of 172-106, with four 20-win seasons and one 19-win season, that ended when a game with Hancock County was canceled.
Last season (2016-17) was a very successful season for the Grizzlies and Coach Combs as Grainger finished with a 28-6 record and advanced to the sub-state round in the tournament. That record was the best record for a Grainger County boys basketball team since 1961, the last year of the A. W. Davis era. “It meant a lot to me to leave the program in good shape for whoever gets the job,” said Combs.
Combs doesn’t take credit for the success but said, “The records have been good lately because of the good players we have. I’d like to thank all the players who played for me. It was never just about me but about we as a team.”
Combs gives credit for his success to the players and to his assistant coaches, Doug McBee for all nine years, as well as Adam Wolfenbarger for five years, his brother Justin for one year and to Dennis Bayse, who worked as a volunteer coach for five years.
In addition to his players and assistant coaches, Combs also expressed his thanks to Grainger High School administrators Ronnie Cabbage and Mark Briscoe for their support of the boys basketball team.
“It was a hard decision,” said Combs of the decision to resign. “A lot of prayer went into it and I feel that chapter is over for me. The good Lord’s got something else for me. I don’t know what it is, but he will show me.”
“I’m going to spend more time with my family,” said Combs of the extra time he will have now that he is no longer the head basketball coach. “Also, I’m not going to hurt the fish population any, but I’m going to be doing a lot more fishing with my sons.”