In 1997, there was no football at Starr’s Mill, but Mike Earwood started building a program and with the help of dedicated coaches, players and parents, a team that was a perennial powerhouse and playoff contender was built. There were ups and downs over the ensuing seasons, more ups than downs, but fans knew what to expect from Starr’s Mill.
Every August, a hard-nosed, hard working team would take the field and represent their school to the best of their abilities. When the 2010 football season begins, a new coach will lead the Panthers on the field and Coach Earwood will be at Our Lady of Mercy, trying to build another strong program.
Earwood coached last year at Starr’s Mill without a teaching position, in the hopes that his contract, he was a 49 percent employee the year before, would be renewed this year. When the recent economic projections showed that 49 percent employees weren’t going to be hired back anytime soon, Earwood decided to take a job where he could teach again, as well as coach football.
The job at Our Lady of Mercy was open and Earwood took it.
“I could have gone to other programs but I believe the Mercy job has a lot to offer,” said Earwood. “The challenge is always appealing and building is more interesting than trying to maintain.”
Earwood stated his approach to building a program at Our Lady of Mercy will be the exact same approach he used at Starr’s Mill.
“There will be an attention to detail, Earwood said. “It will be a team of committed young men who will be treated with respect and coached the way you’d want your son coached.”
Starr’s Mill only failed to make the state playoffs three times under Earwood (1998, 2003 and 2008). They made the state semi-finals in 2000 and the program has produced a number of Division I collegiate football players.
“Starr’s Mill High School and the entire Starr’s Mill community will greatly miss the leadership and presence of Head Football Coach Mike Earwood as he has tendered his resignation and decided to take another coaching position. Coach Earwood has been a fixture and pillar of our community for thirteen years,” said Starr’s Mill Athletic Director Mike Davis in a statement to the press. “He was one of the first staff members hired at Starr’s Mill in 1997 when the school opened. He assisted in the selection of many members of the charter faculty at the school as he served, not only as the head football coach, but as the athletic director as well.
“Coach Earwood, one of the top twenty winningest active football coaches in the state, was responsible for helping to build one of the most outstanding public high school athletic programs in Georgia. His success has made Panther Football one of the most recognized and respected programs statewide. With his leaving the school system we lose not only a great coach and teacher but an outstanding role model and mentor for the young men of our community. We wish Coach Earwood the best of luck as he goes after new challenges.”
Starr’s Mill is just starting the process of finding Earwood’s replacement.
Earwood believes that the Mercy football program can, and will, make a dynamic change. It may take some time and hard work from everyone involved but, as Earwood says, “that’s the fun part of the job.”
The numbers in the Mercy football program aren’t great and that will be one of the things that Earwood hoped to build first, establishing a good feeder program and having enough kids to hold decent practices and combat injury and depth issues. Fans of the Bobcat program are hoping that the buzz that a coach of his caliber will be on the sidelines may help that along as well.
It was tough for Earwood to leave the Starr’s Mill program, especially one that reached the playoffs this past season and returns several D-I prospects.
“Thirteen seasons is a long time for a high school football coach to be in one place,” said Earwood. “Sometimes change can be a good thing and a different delivery of the message may help them take it to a new level.”
One thing that is certain is that the Our Lady of Mercy Bobcats will be getting a new message, as soon as this week.
“I’ve got to get the ball rolling,” said Earwood. The Bobcat football program can’t wait.