“I remember the games from back in the ‘80s,” Rutledge said. “I can tell you who we played and what went on because it meant something to me and it still does. I guess that’s why I got into it. That’s all I was ever around. During football season, I was at the field house, during basketball season I was in the gym, and track season I was on the track. I was always around it.”
Rutledge recently returned to his alma mater, Lincoln High School, where he will be the defensive coordinator for the football team and the head coach for the boys basketball team. Rutledge’s father, Ricky Rutledge, was the offensive coordinator for Lincoln’s football team, was the head coach in basketball, and coached track. In his first year on the job in 1980, Ricky Rutledge won the state championship in basketball at Lincoln.
“Growing up here, I spent right at 20 years of my life here and those were some very good years,” Rutledge said. “I know a lot of people coming back. There’s still a lot of people here. This town’s changed a lot over time with everything that’s happened. You have memories and the streets are kind of the same, but in a sense it’s changed a lot. Just being here has been a blessing coming back. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but tried to find the right time to do it.”
The right time came along earlier this spring when an old friend was hired by Lincoln.
“Coach [Brad] Wallace and I are pretty good friends,” Rutledge said. “Ever since he graduated, we’ve talked periodically. About every two or three weeks, we would talk. This has been going on for years now, just keeping up with him in Georgia. He always told me ‘Look, I’ll come back,’ and he said ‘I want you to come back and coach football with me.’ It just sort of worked out that when he came back it was to come back home. It was a hard decision to leave Ragland; I’ll be honest with you. The people there were great, the kids were great, but the opportunity to come back home—and it was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make in a while—but home is home. I wanted to come back and one day coach here, and coach Wallace made that happen.”
Rutledge said when he asked his father for advice, the former Lincoln coach tried not to sway his son in either direction.
“When I first talked to him about the job—and I call him on all kinds of situations, I mean he did it for 32 years and my mom taught for 28, I ask them for advice all the time—he basically told me ‘It’s a good place. I had a lot of good years there, but if you want to go that’s your decision. I’ll support anything you want to do.’ So, he really didn’t say too much about it. He just basically wanted me to make my own decision and live with it from there.”
Being the son of a coach meant Rutledge was held to a higher standard.
“I’m not going to lie to you, it was tough,” he said. “He was harder on me than he probably was on everyone else just because that’s his kid, even in the classroom, walking the halls. I’m better for it, I’m thankful for it. You don’t realize that at the time, but you’ve got to set an example. You know, ‘You’re my son and this is how I want you to act and this is how you’re going to act,’ and if you don’t there are consequences.”
Before arriving at Lincoln, Rutledge spent eight years at Ragland as the defensive coordinator of the football team, seven years as the head coach of the girls basketball team and also served as the assistant coach to the softball team. During his time at Ragland, the softball team won three straight state championships, the football team made two semifinal appearances in the state playoffs, and the girls basketball team made two trips to the state Final Four, as well as winning their area all seven years Rutledge was coach. Rutledge doesn’t anticipate any significant changes in going from girls basketball to boys basketball.
“The speed of the game is quicker,” Rutledge said. “Other than that, there’s not much difference to it. It’s just the speed of the game. It’s still a round ball and you’ve got to put it in a round hoop. Other than that, I don’t think there’s going to be much transition to it. So, I’m not going to change much at all.”
Prior to his time at Ragland, Rutledge spent two years at Cherokee County coaching football and baseball and was an assistant girls basketball coach for a year. The upcoming season will mark his 11th year teaching and coaching.
Rutledge doesn’t anticipate the jump from a 1A school to a 4A school being a significant challenge. Part of the reason Ragland made two trips to the state Final Four had to do with Rutledge scheduling the team against tougher competition.
“We played a lot of bigger schools and the reason I did that was to make us better because we were so young,” he said. “We would never see anybody like that in 1A. We played bigger schools. We weren’t just beating up on little 1A schools; we were beating up on some bigger schools. We were very, very competitive.”
In coming back to Lincoln, one of the most impressive aspects of the athletics program to Rutledge is the multimillion-dollar facilities.
“Just getting them to appreciate things is going to be a challenge because this is what they’re used to,” Rutledge said. “I came from a little 1A school and we didn’t have this stuff. We made do with what we had, which was not a lot. But we were very successful with the way we did things. We’ve been very successful and I’m going to expect the same thing here.”