by Aaron Garcia
Last week, Piedmont hired Ron Massey to replace Frank Ambrose as the Panthers football coach. Massey, 54, most recently coached at Kannapolis A.L. Brown, but the former Guilford College defensive end has also found success at Fayetteville 71st, Raleigh Enloe and King’s Mountain. If he looks familiar, it may be because he coached against many Union County teams when the Wonders were members of the South Piedmont 3A/4A conference from 2005-08. Union County Weekly sat down with Massey this week to see what he had in store for the Panthers.
Q: How does it feel to be the newest member of the Piedmont family?
A: I’m excited. I really did my homework in looking at the community and looking at the kids. I’m excited about it, I think it’s good for me at this point in my career, and hopefully it will be good for Piedmont.
Q: When you were at Kannapolis, how did you view Union County football and the growth out here?
A: I gained a lot of respect for it. I just think it’s made tremendous strides in the last 10-15 years with the athletes, with the coaching, especially, and with the competitiveness. A lot of that’s due to the growth in Union County, too, I think. But I think when we first moved out of the conference we were previously in with Iredell and Rowan County and came over here to Union County, we thought we were moving into possibly an easier conference. But we found out real quick that we thought, from top to bottom, it was more competitive.
In 2008, when we played in the state championship, the two hardest games we had, I thought from a coaching standpoint, was against Marvin Ridge in the regular season and the playoffs. I was very impressed with them.
Union County football has gotten a lot better and they need to be proud of it, which is good because I think the more teams around you that are good, you’re either going to jump on board or you’re gong to fall behind. You either get competitive or they’re going to leave you in the dust. I would rather be in an area like that. When I was in Cleveland County, it was like that. Everyone was good and it just made everybody better. It made the community want to compete, the kids want to compete and the school want to compete.
Q: What are your first impressions of the school so far?
A: I want to hold back on making a definite observation at this point, but I think the potential is here with the kids. I talked to a lot of people (and asked), ‘What are the kids like?’ They said (the kids) are good, hard-nosed kids that are coachable. I think a lot can be said and a lot can be accomplished with those type kids. If they’re willing to learn fundamentals and technique, because they might be at a disadvantage with athleticism, a lot of times that makes you, as a coach, appreciate it more.
I think there’s a lot of excitement in the community, and this is a community-based school. I worked in two schools that were in real large school systems and they were transit schools; kids coming from every direction, and there was no community-based school atmosphere, and that’s what I appreciate about (being here) because I think there is a community – based atmosphere here, and a lot of support.
Q On Friday nights in Kannapolis, there’s no bigger draw than an A.L. Brown football game. Do you see that potential here?
A: I want, when our kids step out and I step out there at 6:30 before a ballgame, I want to see people tailgating; I want to see people with their families out there. I want to see people wearing their school colors, because that is so much of what Friday night high school football is about. I think it’s lost that aspect of it over the years, much like many things in the society we live in. That’s what excites me, to get out there and make it a great atmosphere where people can come out, bring their families and enjoy it, and it’s not a hassle, it’s not something they have to do. Hopefully we can put a product on the field that they’ll be excited about and they’ll appreciate. That’s part of my job, to try and start creating more of that excitement.
Q: How do you balance your evaluation process of the current players and coaches without alienating people?
A: Hopefully we’re going to try to do as much two-platoon as possible, to increase the level of participation. I’m a believer in it. It gives kids an opportunity to know they’ve got an opportunity to play. I think it builds a program versus building a team because you don’t have to replace as many starters. If injuries occur, instead of losing an offensive and a defensive position, you’re only possibly going to lose one position. I think it rolls over into the fact that we might not get out of the gate fast if we’re able to do what I want to do, because athletically we won’t be where we want to be. But as the season progresses, I want to be better in week eight, nine and ten than I do in weeks one, two and three. I think it gives the kids more opportunity to be coached and more preparation time. That’s what I love and that’s what I want to try to create here.
Q: Have you thought about the offense you’ll run?
A: The one thing I think high school football is missing a lot, everybody is offensive-oriented. Nobody pays enough attention to defense. I think if you look at the teams that are successful year in and year out, that you see playing in week 13 and 14, a lot of times their best athletes are on defense. We’re going to shore up our defense to start with. If they can keep us close, we’ll be able to develop our offense.
Q: You haven’t had a clean slate, coaching-wise, in 12 years. How has it been?
A: It’s fun. It’s rejuvenating. My wife (Sherry) said it’s the first time I smiled when we made the decision together. She said it was the first time I’ve smiled in a couple of months. Then my son (Zach), after it was announced, went on Facebook and said, ‘I know my dad is doing what he wants to do.’
It’s all I know… and this is what I’m comfortable with. I missed the coaches. I miss the kids. I miss watching the kids grow up and get better from their freshman year to their senior year and watching them develop as athletes and as people. Their personalities start to change and they come out of their shells.
Q: Did the move to 3A in two years weigh on your decision?
A: Obviously I looked at it. I think (Piedmont) was very competitive in 2A, but if you look at who is going to be in our conference, it’s going to be a very good conference. We either have to get better or we’re going to fall behind. We’re going to have to play extremely well every night in the conference to be competitive.
It’s a good challenge. We’re not going to use it as an excuse not to compete, and I’ll tell our kids that and I’ll tell our community that. Just because we may be the smallest school in that conference doesn’t mean we’re going to use that as an excuse.