The most desirable high school football job in the state wasn’t that desirable a decade go

This is the third in a series of Sunday stories based on AL.com’s anonymous offseason poll of Alabama high school football coaches.

When Mark Freeman left Spanish Fort to take over as the head football coach at Thompson High School in Alabaster in 2015, he admitted it wasn’t usually among the top landing spots he considered.

“It was a challenge and I knew it was a challenge, but I also knew I had people around me that would ultimately allow us to be successful,” Freeman said this week. “I remember in the first interview I said we were going to win the championship. I believed that.

“Honestly, I felt this was a move of God for me, and He would never put you in such a situation and give you a platform to spread His message and testimony to others. I firmly believe that.”

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Freeman took over a Thompson program that had won 10 of its previous 50 games with three head coaches. Over the past seven years, Freeman has won 72 games and the last three Class 7A state championships.

According to AL.com’s anonymous coaching survey, Thompson’s job, a job few people probably wanted a decade ago, is now the most coveted high school head coaching job in the state. 27 percent of the 75 coaches who responded ranked Thompson #1, easily beating out Hoover and Gulf Shores as the preferred destination.

“For me, it’s the most desirable job and I love it, but I never go to work,” Freeman said. “Every day that I walk into that school is a blessing because I’m surrounded by great people. They allowed me to bring in coaches and teachers who I knew were good people and would be successful and the kids accepted what we wanted them to do. It doesn’t guarantee success and a state championship, but it creates a great atmosphere. It is our culture, roots and character that I am extremely proud of.”

Freeman credits Alabaster City Schools Superintendent Wayne Vickers, Thompson Principal Wesley Hester and Athletic Director Vince Pitts for making Thompson’s football program a success.

“It’s a great job, and it’s the people who make it happen,” Freeman said. “Dr. Vickers and Mr. Hester and Vince — not only do we have a great relationship, they’re great friends. Every decision we make is in the best interest of our children.”

Many factors make Thompson one of the most attractive jobs in the state.

In a short time, the Warriors have become the benchmark soccer team in the state. They continue to produce the best prospects and win big. They have an $88 million school that includes an $19 million sports complex. Prior to the 2018 season, Thompson moved from the historic Larry Simmons Field to the new stadium and facilities down the road.

Additionally, six schools in the Alabaster City School system were separated from the Shelby County system in 2013, leaving Thompson as the only high school in the system.

“I think for all of those reasons people probably think it’s a desirable job,” Pitts said. “Obviously Coach Freeman has done a great job of creating that. I think he speaks of the support, the goodwill and the desire of our administration to be great. Facilities are definitely part of it, but I think buildings are just buildings until you add great people.”

The Warriors went 5-5 in each of Freeman’s first two seasons and missed the playoffs. Since then, Thompson is 62-5 with three state titles and a second-place finish. Freeman’s team will open 2022 with a pair of high-profile games out of state.

The Warriors will face Buford, Georgia running back Justice Haynes on August 19 at the Freedom Bowl in Alpharetta, Georgia. And he will play Alabama. They return home Aug. 27 to host former NFL QB Trent Dilfer and Lipscomb Academy in a game that will be televised nationally on ESPNU.

“The ability to hire great assistants and great staff members is important,” Pitts said. “I think that was crucial to our success. Our focus has been to hire the best coaches and the best teachers. When you focus on hiring the best, you tend to get the best.”

Thompson’s Region 3 rival, Hoover, ranked second in the poll. The Bucs hired Wade Waldrop to replace Josh Niblett in the offseason. Number 3 was Gulf Shores, another of Freeman’s previous training stops. The Dolphins are currently coached by former college coach Mark Hudspeth.

Spanish Fort vs. Soccer Gulf Shores
Gulf Shores head coach Mark Hudspeth looks on during the Spanish Fort vs. Gulf Shores, on Friday, September 3, 2021, at Spanish Fort, Alabama. (Scott Donaldson | al.com) Scott Donaldson/al.com

Most Coveted Head Coaching Job

(Based on 75 responses to AL.com’s anonymous coaches survey)

1. Thompson (27 percent)

2. Hoover (11 percent)

3. Gulf Coast (8 percent)

4. (tie) Auburn, Hewitt-Trussville (7 percent)

Other jobs with multiple votes: Central-Phenix City, Oneonta, Orange Beach, Piedmont, Saraland, Spanish Fort, St. Paul’s, TR Miller, UMS-Wright, Vestavia Hills.

Survey Story Calendar

July 17: Best Active Trainer

July 24: The best atmosphere on Friday nights

July 31: Most Wanted Jobs

August 7: Top College Recruiters

August 14: The Best Competition

August 21 – The biggest challenge for HS coaches

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