When Dell McGee took over as head coach at Carver High in 2005, he inherited a program that had not had a winning season in nine years. Eight seasons, 88 wins, six region championships and a state title later, McGee leaves the program as one of the elite in the state of Georgia.
McGee announced on Thursday that he is stepping down from his position at Carver and accepting a role on Auburn University football’s support staff. He will take up the position, which will be in an off-the-field capacity, on Monday after spending his last day as Carver’s athletic director at the boys basketball game on Saturday.
McGee said he was grateful for the opportunities he had at Carver as well as those that await him at Auburn.
“I’m very grateful for the years I spent at Carver,” McGee said. “And I’m grateful for the opportunity Coach Malzahn has given me here.”
Auburn has not officially announced the hire, and McGee's role within the staff is yet to be defined publicly.
Carver principal Christopher Lindsey said he recognized the difficulty in replacing a “legend” like McGee, but has already begun the process of searching for a new coach.
“Right now, the process has already started as far as me coming up with ideas of names of guys that can fill McGee’s shoes,” he said, adding that it will be his decision to make.
Lindsey said he will try to make the decision by the first week of May, but declined to offer any potential names at this time.
In eight years with the Tigers, McGee compiled an 88-19 record, including the Class AAA state championship in 2007. He also helped the team move its all-time record over .500 for the first time since 1971.
Carver went 3-7 in McGee’s first year at the school, but improved to 12-2 with a semifinals appearance in 2006, his second season, and 15-0 in 2007.
The program also produced elite athletes such as running back Isaiah Crowell and linebacker Jarvis Jones, who is expected to be a high selection in this year’s NFL draft.
“There was a big transformation there,” said DeRon Furr, who played at Carver under McGee from 2006-08 and is now a member of Fort Valley State. “I remember when I first got there. We had our first winning season in a minute. It was a big turnaround. He just made guys jell together.”Riyadh Jones, who graduated from Carver in 2011 and just signed to play at the University of Tennessee out of junior college, said McGee’s impact came in a lot of ways.
“It starts with him being a great person,” Jones said. “Also, he’s a great coach. He had a great staff and everything. He saw great things in us and he made us keep working hard. I’ll never forget that.”
D.J. Jones, former Tiger, Georgia Bulldog and current Bi-City radio personality, spoke of McGee’s ability to take Carver to the next level among the state’s elite.
“Dell took Carver to the next level,” he said. “Once he got his system in place, the program took off.
“I’ve had the opportunity to watch Dell come in as a young coach and see his maturity and growth. He called on former coaches, myself, other guys that were respected in the football community, and he was just a sponge. Watching him grow each and every season, it’s no surprise Auburn scooped him up. He took his team to the next level, and now he’s ready to go to the next level.”
Former players and colleagues also spoke highly of the impact McGee had on his student-athletes off the field as well.
Players who have moved on to the next level tell stories of receiving texts containing scriptures and devotionals on the day of games.
“Sometimes he’d even give you a call,” Riyadh Jones said. “Not all coaches do that. He’s always looking out for his guys.”
“A lot of guys didn’t have fathers period,” Furr said. “A lot of guys looked up to him as a father figure. He’d help the team bond as a family. It let’s me know he cares. There are people who have been in my life a lot longer than Coach has, and I’ve received more texts and calls from him. It means a lot.”
Lindsey and Muscogee County athletic director Gary Gibson spoke similarly of the impact McGee had on academics at the school, as well.
“What I saw is Coach McGee giving kids an avenue to higher education,” Gibson said. “He gave students the tools they needed to make that possible.”
“People don’t realize athletics and academics go hand in hand,” Lindsey said. “He came in with an attitude of discipline and that he wouldn’t put up with a lot. He made the kids work hard in everything they do.”
Current players Mekhi Brown and Tailik Quarterman both said they were sad to see McGee leave, but happy for the opportunity he has in front of him.
“You can’t stay in the same position forever,” said Brown, a high recruit for 2015. “I’m happy for him. Sad to see him go, though. He meant a lot to us.”
Quarterman added that McGee’s impact will continue even without the coach there in person.
“He made players like me learn how to step up and be leaders on and off the field,” he said in a message to the Ledger-Enquirer, adding in a post on Twitter that McGee named certain players leaders so that they could carry on the tradition going forward.
McGee has a history with Auburn, having played with the Tigers for four seasons, 1992-95, as a cornerback. He lettered all four years and was drafted in the fifth round of the 1996 NFL draft. He played briefly for the Arizona Cardinals in 1998.
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports