Scotland first-year head coach Richard Bailey may measure his success on the wins, losses and championships he’s earned throughout his career, but those aren’t the things that he reflects upon most fondly.
After logging 10-win seasons and deep postseason runs in seven of the past eight seasons he spent at Jack Britt, Bailey inherited a Scotland team that lost 20 of the 22 starters that helped secure a 4A state championship for the Scots in 2011. Unproven and with expectations tempered, Bailey would help lead the 2012 Scots to a 12-2 overall record and within a hair’s breadth of a second consecutive state championship appearance.
Two of those victories came against his former Buccaneers’ squad and Richmond County, games that Bailey says “are the biggest I’ve ever coached in terms of what they meant to me personally.”
With that said, those won’t be the things that Bailey cherishes when he inevitably calls it a coaching career.
“I’m not gonna lie, after you’ve done this a while most of the games you coach tend to run together,” Bailey said. “I’ll forget some of these games, but 15 years from now it’ll be the little things that I’ll really remember.”
The “little things” included a pre-game prayer that Bailey shared with Scotland starting cornerback Ryan Leak every Friday night. Or receiving a reassuring swat on the rear end from junior running back Josh McPhatter before the team stormed onto the field each week. And watching as son Carson led the charge through the billowing blue smoke that signaled the arrival of the eventual 2012 Southeastern Conference champions.
Or something that Scotland inside linebacker Chris Moss would say to Bailey each week as the Scots matured into a cohesive unit.
“Chris would look at me before we ran out there and say that he had my back every single week,” Bailey said. “I know it seems silly, but it’s those shared moments with my players that will define my first season here in Scotland. We had a very special group here, and I think what they managed to make happen this past season will resonate with the teams I have here for years to come.”
When he was hired at Jack Britt some 12 seasons ago, Bailey was greeted with a clean slate and little-to-no fanfare as he began building the program from scratch. But upon making the move to Scotland County just six months ago, Bailey knew he had to acquiesce to the already-proven system in place before he could completely take over the reigns of the Fighting Scots.
“I started the program at Jack Britt when the school first opened, so I was involved with everything that was done, from coaching hires to buying weight room equipment,” Bailey said. “I had my stamp on everything there, but when I came here I inherited a whole staff of coaches. I was used to doing things the ‘Bailey Way’ at Britt, but coming here was a good experience because it wouldn’t have been very smart of me to throw out all the good and positive things. I didn’t take over a losing team, this was a defending state champion we’re talking about here.”
The summer was a feeling-out process for all parties involved, as Bailey and much of his established Scotland coaching staff worked to combine an effective mixture of old and new. Scotland would keep the speed-oriented 3-4 defense from year’s past, while Bailey worked to implement a spread-option, no huddle-based offensive attack designed to keep momentum running at a rapid clip.
All the while, Bailey fielded questions from various media outlets about the expectations for his Scotland team, a team that had seized the brass ring a year prior but looked entirely different this season in terms of personnel.
“Considering our schedule and the expectations surrounding a largely unknown group, I took this job thinking a 7-4 record with a playoff win or two would’ve been a good first year,” Bailey said. “Not many programs can overcome the type of losses that Scotland sustained after last year’s state championship team.”
Yet, one intangible that nobody, not even Bailey, accounted for was the hunger and drive lying at the heart of his senior starters in wait. After spending their junior seasons on the bench and only getting ‘junk time’ minutes in blowout games, Scotland’s seniors finally had their opportunity to blaze a trail all their own.
According to Bailey, the fact that his team made the absolute most of their opportunities is a testament to the character that formed the foundation of the 2012 Fighting Scots.
“Kids these days are living in the ‘now generation’, and sitting on the bench hardly getting any playing time is not going to keep very many of them happy,” Bailey said. “It happened at Britt a lot too, when I had to apologize to kids for being at the same school as one of our star players. These Scotland players could’ve easily quit, but instead they were smart enough to stick with it knowing that their time would come. Next thing you know, these guys become bonafide all-conference players and it really speaks volumes about the type of kids all of them are.”
Bailey cited defensive stalwarts such as Moss, Tim McNeil and Ed Cain as players that were “far, far better than advertised” when their window of opportunity became apparent. And perhaps no player better embodied this than Scotland wide receiver Tra’Shawn Gregory, a virtual unknown heading into his senior season that emerged as one of Scotland’s top wide-receiving threats in team history.
The events and circumstances surrounding Scotland’s run to the fourth round of the 4A state playoffs this season can best be described as fateful, but Bailey points to stretch of non-conference games which truly dictated the Scots’ success (or potential failure) on the year.
Back-to-back-to-back games against New Hanover, Marlboro County and his former Jack Britt team was a grueling stretch of games for the first-year Scotland coach to navigate. But after surrendering a loss to New Hanover in the second week of the season, the Scots rebounded to best the Marlboro County Bulldogs 20-12 and improve to a 2-1 record.
And then came the contest that every Scotland fan, player and Bailey himself had undoubtedly circled on their calendar the moment Bailey became Scotland’s head coach.
“I feel like a lot of people questioned why I left a state championship-caliber team in Jack Britt when I decided to take the Scotland job,” Bailey said. “It was extremely important for me to reaffirm why I came to the Scotland community.”
And traveling to the Boneyard for the first time since departing the team, Bailey and the Fighting Scots would decimate the Buccaneers (who were the third-ranked team in North Carolina at the time) 32-6. Ratliffe would finish the night going 15-17 in pass attempts and completing three touchdown passes, all to Gregory.
“I thought I might get booed both ways at the game: first by their fans, then by our fans if we lost the game,” Bailey said with a laugh. “Instead, I received a lot of love from both sides of the field, which showed me that what I did was appreciated there and also that there’s no better place to coach football games than in Scotland County.”
In Bailey’s eyes, the decisive win over Jack Britt was the turning point for Scotland’s season. Though they began their winning streak against Marlboro County a week prior, the Buccaneer beatdown preceded a Scotland tear through their remaining regular season opponents as they set up the inevitable clash with chief rival Richmond.
And with the conference on the line, the Scots defeated Richmond 21-14 to secure their second-straight conference championship. And more importantly in some fan’s eyes, a second straight win over the Raiders.
Not only was it another signature win for the Fighting Scots, it was defining win for a coach that went the entirety of his Jack Britt career having been unable to topple the Raiders.
“I went to Richmond and played at Richmond in championship games more times than I can count, but this time I entered their house as a member of the Scots,” Bailey said. “I didn’t understand the magnitude of the rivalry until I was a part of it. I’ve played in games on a bigger stage, but this year’s win at Richmond was the most important game of my career in terms of getting the monkey off my back and establishing myself in Scotland. Some people wouldn’t mind us going 1-9 as long as that one win was against the Raiders.”
Scotland’s season ended Nov. 30 in the fourth round of the 4A state playoffs following a 23-6 loss to the New Bern Bears. It was the Scots’ first road playoff game of the season after earning the number two-overall seed in the tournament, which gave Scotland the opportunity to host the first three rounds of the postseason at Pate Stadium.
Upon finding out his team would journey more than three hours away for its’ game against the Bears, Bailey asked Scotland fans to travel and lend their support. And on Black Friday, the atmosphere at New Bern was standing-room only as Scots’ fans braved the frigid weather and lengthy drive to be there for Scotland’s chance at repeating history.
The team fell just short; however, that game only further cemented in Bailey’s mind that he had made the right decision in coming to Scotland.
“Even in the 2-9 years, Scotland fans always came out and supported their team,” Bailey said. “To see our stands packed like that makes you feel really good about the support you have. Scotland County epitomizes the small town that bands together every Friday night to pull for the common good of the community. Fans here understand the importance of football in young men’s lives better than anywhere else.”
The days following Scotland’s season-ending playoff loss have been bittersweet for Bailey and the Fighting Scots’ coaching staff. Though the cleaned-out football field house serves as a reminder that the season is officially finished, Bailey is in the process of putting together highlight films and hosting a revolving door of college coaches eager to interact with Scotland’s top athletes.
The postseason layover has left Bailey much time to reflect on what the Scots accomplished in his first year as head coach. And it’s also allowed him to ponder the years ahead.
“You already see our senior players talking to the younger guys about expectations, and that’s great to see,” Bailey said. “We want our players and fans to expect to beat Richmond, win conference championships and be in the conversation as a team that could win a state championship every year. I hope to average 10 wins a year here like I did at Jack Britt, and I know we can make that happen.”