As longtime manager and prominent Cartersville High School figure Edgar Moore approached Joey King's office after hearing the news, King knew what was about to happen.
“Here come the tears,” King said less than an hour after informing the football team Thursday morning he was leaving the program to take a college coaching position.
"You’re leaving me, Coach?”
“It’s going to be all right,” King told Edgar as they hugged for one of the last times.
In that instance, as Edgar has done time and time again, he managed to express the thoughts and emotions of the entire Cartersville High faithful.
It was an emotional moment for everyone at the football facility that morning.
"A lot of times, with kids, either they’re real sad, some of them are emotional because they don’t know how to handle emotion yet, some are happy for you,” King said of the reactions from his players. "Some of them just get mad, because they take it personally. I just assured them that wasn’t the case. I told them I loved them. I told them I meant it."
Reports surfaced Friday that King will join the Coastal Carolina coaching staff, although King himself could only confirm he’ll be a receivers coach at a Division-I FBS program. An official announcement is expected Monday.
However, it doesn’t matter much to Cartersville where King goes from here in his promising coaching career. The reason he became such a prominent local sports figure is for what he has already done in Cartersville.
His tenure wasn’t all that long — five years out of 105 seasons of Cartersville High football. However, that five-year run coincided with the most successful stretch in program history. During that time, King and Co. doubled the amount of state titles the program had won from two to four, won a region championship each season, and averaged three and a half playoff wins per year.
The Canes lost just one regular season game during King’s time in purple, and the team currently holds the longest regular-season winning streak in the state, one of the longest road-winning streaks in the state, and at one point during King’s run, held the longest overall winning streak in the state for more than an entire calendar year. And those are just some of the streaks and records King’s teams claimed, not to mention the point-scoring and margin-of-victory school records that have been shattered.
To put the current golden era of Cartersville football into perspective, the program did not win its first GHSA state playoff game until 1989 and did not win a state playoff game in consecutive years until a stretch under former coach Frank Barden from 1998 to 2001. Cartersville did not string together consecutive seasons with a playoff win again until a four-year run from 2003-06, but only made it past the second round once in that span.
And those two four-year stretches were the best runs for Cartersville football until this current streak from 2012 to 2018, two years with Barden and five years under King. As a result, it is an understatement to say the Canes’ program has never been this good and the brand recognition around the state and the country has never been as strong.
As coach King sat at his desk at the team’s facility for one of the last times after making his departing announcement to the team, he took a moment to reflect on how the success of the last five years occurred.
"A culture had to be established when we first came. A culture of how hard we were going to work on that practice field and just constantly moving and flying around and attacking the day in everything that we did,” he said. "There was a coach from Duke that came to watch us that spring and sometimes we probably didn’t look like we knew what was going on. Then he came to see us in the fall and saw us working in the weight room and stayed for practice, and said, 'Listen, Coach. The culture has been established. Things are going to happen here.' And they did.”
King leaves the high school ranks with a 67-4 record over his five seasons at Cartersville. There was a Georgia high school football coach in the 1940s who had a better win percentage than King and another two in the ’30s, but that’s it, and none of those three coaches won more than 25 games.
Detractors can attribute King’s success to having a generational talent at quarterback for four years in Trevor Lawrence, and the biggest senior class in school history and one of the most talented to accompany him. However, the mark of a great coach is sustaining success under varying circumstances with different players. And after Lawrence and the 2018 senior class graduated, Cartersville was right back in the state championship game the next year with 18 first-year starters.
The on-field success is inarguable, but what many will remember King for was his charisma, old-Southern axioms and preacher-like dedication to espousing noble virtues to his players. Those are the kind of traits one would expect of a football coach from Cedartown, albeit one 30 years his senior. Yet he still managed to connect with players 20 years his junior.
There are stories of King meeting local business owners for the first time and walking away with a hefty donation to the football program. And, in perhaps the most significant illustration of the power of personality, Trevor Lawrence’s parents acknowledged to The Daily Tribune News in an interview in 2017 they were uncertain of whether to send their son to Cartersville High until their first meeting with King shortly after he was hired in 2014 quelled their apprehension.
It was that off-field persona in conjunction with the on-field success that engendered such admiration for the former all-state high school quarterback. It’s also why he’ll continue to ascend in the coaching ranks and why a departure from Cartersville was inevitable.
Even so, as he moves on to bigger and better jobs, he’ll always be linked to the Canes.
"I mentioned Hurricanes past, present and future. This place, it’s a special place,” he said. "It’s a really good job that’s headed in the right direction, but it wouldn’t be possible without those past Hurricanes. There’s a lot of people here that support Cartersville football. Those guys who have been here while I've been here, those are relationships that I'lll always cherish. I’ll miss the heck out of everybody."