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Tankersley leaving Bobcats

Former Gilmer High School football head coach Wes Tankersley is pictured at a game during the 2014 season. Tankersley led the Bobcats for seven seasons and reached the state playoffs four times. Last Wednesday, he tendered his resignation and accepted the same position at Region 7-4A foe, Ridgeland. (Photo by Robbie Bills)
Top Cat changes stripes

Tankersley accepts head coaching position at Ridgeland

by Robbie Bills

The man who led the resurgence of the Gilmer High School football program has left the building.

Wes Tankersley’s seven-year stint as the Bobcats’ head coach came to an end last Wednesday when he tendered his resignation and accepted the same position at Ridgeland High School.

Tankersley cited greater financial stability and increased career opportunities for his wife, Bree, as the main reasons for moving on to the next chapter of his coaching career.                        

“After I interviewed and got the offer, Bree and I talked about what we wanted to do as a family, and we felt like that was the best decision for us,” he said. “It provides us with more opportunities. It’s better for me as far as financial stuff goes, and it provides Bree the opportunity to get back into TV broadcasting. She worked up there back when I was finishing college.”

Tankersley met with Gilmer’s assistant football coaches first thing Wednesday morning after notifying the administration of his decision. He held a team meeting as well.

“It was a very emotional meeting because I care a lot about the kids and I’ve seen many of them grow up from ball boys to seniors,” he said. “They took it pretty well. There may have been a little shock, but I think and hope that most understand the situation. They’ll be upset for awhile, but hopefully over time they’ll realize the decision I made was best for my family. It’s going to be hard to play them next year.”

Tankersley said the decision was made after much agonizing and prayer. He stated that nothing occurred within the school system to affect his decision.

“I feel like we’ve given a lot to Gilmer High School and tried as hard as we can here to build a quality product on and off the field. I’m excited about the opportunity, but saddened to leave Gilmer County. It’s a place I’ve lived almost my whole life. This definitely wasn’t an easy decision, but to put my family in the situation we need to be in, it was the best decision.”

Tankersley is a third generation Bobcat. He was a four-year starter at GHS and graduated in 2000. His college football career began at North Greenville (S.C.) University and ended at University of Tennessee - Chattanooga, just minutes north of Ridgeland’s Rossville campus.

After coaching for two years at Central Gwinnett High School, he returned to GHS in 2007 as an assistant. The following season he became head coach at the age of 26 and began rebuilding the program.

From 2002-2007, GHS posted a 12-48 record. In 2010, Gilmer reached the state playoffs for the first time in 11 years. In 2013, the Bobcats won their first playoff game in 14 seasons. From 2011-2014, GHS posted its best four-year record in the 70-year history of the program at 32-12.

Gilmer made the playoffs four times under Tankersley’s tutelage, and his tenure was filled with notable upsets. He compiled a 42-33 record at GHS, which ranks second all-time in number of victories.

“Wesley did a sensational job for us. He made the program competitive again and turned it around in a hurry,” said GHS athletic director Mike Putman. “He made GHS a regular state playoff contender. I just appreciate what he’s done for the program, the community and everything else. We will really miss him.”

Tankersley will replace Mark Mariakis, who spent 11 years at Ridgeland and resigned last month. He compiled a 72-33 record and won four region titles. In 2012, Ridgeland advanced to the Class 4A title game. Over the previous two seasons, Ridgeland failed to make the playoffs and posted records of 3-7 and 4-6.

“I would just like to thank the parents, players, fans and people in the community for the support they’ve shown us and our family,” Tankersley said. “Even today (last Wednesday), it’s been overwhelming. I just want to thank everyone who has helped us out along the way, and helped me out and given me an opportunity. It’s bittersweet for me, but at the end of the day, I have to do what’s best for my family.”

Coaching search begins

According to Putman, resumes of prospective replacements started coming in almost immediately after the position was posted online. He said they will continue to accept resumes over the next “two or three weeks.”

Putman also stated that a hiring committee of “eight or nine” people will be formed to handle the interviewing process.

“The committee will be made up of people who are representatives of different parts of the school and booster club.  You like to have a wide range of opinions so they can sit down and decide on the best candidate,” Putman said.

In a system-wide email last Friday, superintendent Jason Kouns said he hopes to have the hiring process completed by the first week of March. Jeff Thurman will serve as interim head coach until the position is filled.
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