Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Replacing a Legend New Coach under Pressure in Valdosta

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Replacing a Legend New Coach under Pressure in Valdosta

Article excerpt

The late Nick Hyder used to say his job running the nationally

acclaimed Valdosta High football program was the toughest in the

world.

But there may be a tougher one -- replacing the 22-year coach,

who compiled a 249-36-2 record and won three national, seven

state and 12 region championships before he died in May.

Mike O'Brien, 48, a Mississippi native with only two years of

head-coaching experience -- and that more than 20 years ago --

now has that job, at least for this year.

He is only Valdosta's fourth coach in the last 50 years, and

one of those, Charlie Greene, was only head man for two years,

1972-73.

After 15 years as an assistant to Hyder, O'Brien knows about

the pressures that go with coaching the most successful high

school football program in the country.

But he insists he doesn't feel them, despite Wildcats fans and

the powers that be in Valdosta having made it clear that he may

not have the job for more than one season.

"I don't really feel any pressure," the soft-spoken former

offensive backs coach said. "I put more pressure on myself than

anyone else can put on me. I'm a perfectionist."

So are the Wildcats fans, and anything less than a 15-0 record,

a state and perhaps a national championship is considered a

subpar season.

Though no one will come right out and say it, many in Valdosta

believe that O'Brien has to produce that kind of season to get

an extension on his one-year contract.

But David Waller, chairman of the Valdosta School Board and a

major player in deciding who will coach the Wildcats in the

future, says he isn't one of them.

"He doesn't have to be 15-0," Waller said. "But he does have to

guide the program in the right direction. So far, I'd say he's

doing an excellent job of that. Coach O'Brien says he's here to

stay. I hope he's right."

Waller, who was a close friend of Hyder, points out that

O'Brien's one-year contract, and the fact he has been referred

to as an interim coach, doesn't necessarily mean he won't be

around awhile. …

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