was introduced as the new football coach at Valdosta, Ga., High Monday night, and he
got an early taste of the passion for high school football in a city nicknamed "Winnersville."
The announcement was held in a 1,200-seat city auditorium to accommodate fans who wanted to meet the new coach, who had a 37-11 record at Apopka, including a Class 6A state title in 2001.
Valdosta, located 15 miles north of the Florida-Georgia border off I-75, is the winningest high school program in the nation with an 802-165-34 record (.818) in 90 years of football.That includes 23 Georgia state championships and six unofficial national titles.
"Lakeland High had tradition, and I grew up in that," Darlington
said of his
days as a high school player."I like the challenge of living up to tradition."
But no school in Florida has tradition like Valdosta.The Wildcats sell out big games in an 11,000-seat stadium, have a 1,300-member booster club and have their own weekly half-hour TV highlights show.
With all the frills comes pressure.
, 37, will double his
salary, with reports from Valdosta indicating he
will receive a new truck and an annual salary between $80,000 and $90,000.O'Brien's contract was worth $83,911.50 annually.And after teaching six English classes at Apopka, Darlington now will focus almost solely on football as head coach and athletic director.
With an assistant athletic director on staff, Darlington's primary focus will be overseeing a football program that reaches down to the sixth-grade level.
...King said Apopka's search for a new coach is in a holding pattern until assistants to Darlington decide whether or not they will join him in Valdosta.
The Blue Darters are 184-88 over the past 25 seasons, though they slipped to 2-8 in 1998 before Darlington
was hired away from Eustis, where he
had gone 21-12 in his
first stint as a head coach (1996-98).Darlington
laid down his
law and rebuilt the Apopka
program around young players who bought into his
no-nonsense approach.The Blue Darters started six sophomores on a 6-4
team in 1999, then won a district title in 2000 and followed that with a 6A championship in 2001 -- the first outright title in history for an Orange County public school football team.After graduating 28 seniors from the state title team, Apopka
finished 8-3 last fall."I'll miss Rick personally and professionally," Apopka Principal John Edwards said.