By Shannon Fagan
Cherokee County Herald
For the past three years, Dexter Vines has learned from one of the state’s best high school basketball and football coaching staffs at Spring Garden. He now hopes to take what he’s learned and establish his own program in Attalla.
Vines was hired on May 11 to re-place Ryan Fore as the new head girls basketball coach at Etowah High School. Vines will also be an assistant football coach.
Vines called his decision to leave Spring Garden a tough one, but he’s excited to become a head coach of his own program, particularly at a place he’s familiar with.
“I’ve had a couple of offers to go here and there, but it just didn’t feel like the right time or the right place,” Vines said. “When I did my student teaching at Etowah, I thought it was a special place. Obviously, I think that because that’s where I’m going to, but Spring Garden is something special too. The community and the overwhelming support are second to none.”
The Panther basketball and football programs have experienced tremendous success since Vines joined the staff at Spring Garden in May of 2014.
In basketball, Vines was part of a Lady Panther staff that earned three straight Class 1A state championship game appearances, including a state title in 2016. In that same three-year span, the Panther boys won an area basketball championship during the 2015-16 season and made Northeast Regional appearances this past season and last season.
Vines also was a part of the success the Panthers have had the past three seasons in football. Spring Gar-den finished 7-4 in 2014, 8-4 in 2015 and 10-2 in 2016.
“What I’ve learned from Coach Rat (Ricky) Austin, Coach Dana (Austin), Coach (Damon) McDonald and Coach (Jason) Howard is immeasurable,” Vines said. “They’ve been great.”
When he learned of the Etowah position, Vines sought Ricky Austin’s advice.
“Obviously, he didn’t want me to go, but he knew what an opportunity it was for me,” Vines said. “I told him up front from the get-go when I started (at Spring Garden) that I wanted to be a head coach. I wanted to coach girls and be a head football coach, too.
“Although I’m not a head football coach yet, I’m head girls (basketball) coach, and that’s something I’m very proud of. Coach Howard didn’t want me to go either, but at the same time, he’s real happy for me. He knows what it’s like to be in my spot. They’re all very happy for me.”
In addition to being somewhat familiar with the Blue Devil athletic program through his student-teaching days, Vines said another big selling point for him was the EHS athletes. He’s just hoping he can tap into their potential.
“The athletic ability there is incredible,” he said. “They’ve got somewhere between 11-13 guys who will probably play college football. I thought that if there are that many boys, there’s going to be that many girls, too. It’s just going to take some time. It’s not going to be an overnight process.
“The biggest thing I’ve got to do is be very patient with the girls because I’m coming from a very good program, where basketball IQ is very high. That’s something we’ve just got to build on. That’s not a knock at anybody. It’s just we play a different way at Spring Garden, and it’s worked for us. It’s a winning combination. I look forward to getting things going in the right direction there.”
Etowah head football coach and athletic director Drew Noles was excited to have Vines in the fold.
“Dex had the opportunity to work with Coach Austin who does a phenomenal job,” Noles said. “I think he’ll bring a lot of fundamentals to the program, and I think he’ll be successful. He’s very knowledgeable of the game and he’ll just have to find a starting point and work his way from there. He understands that it will be a process. Hopefully we can get a few more girls out and get the numbers up.”
Vines has already begun the building process with the Lady Blue Devils, who went 4-19 last season. He’s already met with his new players and continues to get familiar with them.
“The first question I asked them was ‘What’s going on the week of March 2, 2018?’ They really didn’t know,” Vines said. “That’s something at Spring Garden we put on the calendar because we expect to be there. The next question I asked them was. ‘What’s the most important game?’ They really didn’t answer that the way I wanted them to. I told them the next one was, because that’s the next opportunity you have to get better. We’ve got to use every opportunity and see where it takes us.”
Messenger Publisher/Editor Chris McCarthy contributed to this article