Barden, who led the Purple Hurricanes to a Class AA state title in 1999, was offered and accepted the positions of athletic director and head football coach at Stephens County High Wednesday morning, ending what had been the longest tenure in Class AAA football.
“Coach Barden is a great coach and a great guy,” Cartersville athletic director Darrell Demastus said. “As far as replacing Frank in the community, that’s a person that has been here for 18 years. He’s an outstanding pillar in the community. It’s just a tough loss for Cartersville High School.
“He’s done an excellent job. He’s a good Christian man and he teaches these kids not only football, but he teaches them ethics, also. He teaches them what it takes to become a man and what it takes to survive in the outside world.”
During his 18 years at Cartersville, Barden’s teams went 154-58-1 for a .723 winning percentage to go along with seven region titles. Barden had been honored as Atlanta Falcons coach of the year twice and is coming off two seasons in which Cartersville was 13-1 and 11-1, respectively.
“A guy that has been at a high school for 18 years is almost unheard of anymore. That just doesn’t happen like it used to happen,” Cartersville defensive coordinator Rusty Grimmett said. “The thing about him is he knew this community. He knew these kids because his kids grew up with these kids. He knew where everybody fit. He knew what it took to be a good football team and he’s the best coach that I’ve ever been around that knew what each person’s role was. That’s a talent, now. That just doesn’t happen.”
Barden will take over the Class AAAA Stephens County program after the Indians went 5-6 in 2013 and reached the state playoffs for the eighth time in nine seasons.
Barden was Stephens County’s offensive coordinator from 1987 to 1993. During that time, Stephens County played in three semifinal games and one state final. He is a native of Habersham County located in northeast Georgia near Stephens County.
“This was 30 years for me, when Brooks got done. It was sort of the plan, when you look at the long term. It just so happens that my 30th year fell on Brooks’ final year. I’ve only moved three times in 30 years. Each time, you feel like there’s a kind of a timing and a reason for your move,” Barden said. “There’s an opportunity to go back to Stephens County, which has been my home. It’s where I was for seven years prior to becoming a head coach and it’s a decision really made for quality of life and family. It’s a tough decision, but I’ve been here 18 years and it was time to retire from the classroom and I wanted to be an AD.
“Family is important to me. My mom and dad and my wife’s family are up there. Anytime you make a decision for family, it’s a good decision.”
Cartersville amassed nearly 5,000 yards and 74 touchdowns in 2013 with Barden as the play caller. Barden’s son, Brooks, threw for 2,382 passing yards and 42 touchdowns after being named Class AAA Player of the Year in 2012 and an all-state quarterback in 2013.
Barden met with his players at 3 p.m. Wednesday to notify them he was leaving. His departure leaves uncertainty amongst the Cartersville football program in its search to find the next head football coach. Demastus says he expects between 150 and 200 applicants for the position.
“I got a real good indication he was leaving because, when I got here this morning, I already had an email from another coach in south Georgia saying that the rumor was [Barden] was leaving and he would like to apply for the job. I’ve had probably four or five emails [Wednesday] from people who are interested in the job,” Demastus said. “I haven’t really talked to [Cartersville Principal Steve Butler] about it in depth, but I’m sure we’ll be looking for someone who has got a good track record and has experience. I’m assuming the criteria would be, they wouldn’t have necessarily have had to have been a head coach, but I think they would have had to have been either a sitting head coach or a coordinator.”
“Finding another coach Barden is going to be very difficult. You just can’t walk out here on the street and find a man that possesses all the qualities that he has.”
Cartersville does not have much time to find Barden’s replacement as spring football practice begins in May.
“The first week of May, I would think that would be the goal,” Demastus said of when he expects to have a new coach in place. “We would probably like to have someone by that spring practice date, get the new guy as much time and as much practice with those kids as possible.”
Even with the limited time frame, Demastus expects to hire someone who can continue Cartersville’s success and fit in with the community.
“Cartersville is a unique place and it takes a special person, because this community is a real close-knit community. You’re going to need someone who is personable and who doesn’t mind talking to the people. Most football coaches understand that coming in,” he said. “You can’t only hire a football coach. You have to hire a pillar, somebody in the community that’s an outstanding citizen. When you get somebody who has been here as long as Frank, you’re hoping to get somebody to come in here to motivate these kids and be supportive just like Frank was, and be the pillar in the community that Frank was in representing Cartersville High School in the excellent way that he did. That’s not going to be an easy task.”
Cartersville is currently holding a 20-game regular season winning streak and coming off the program’s second consecutive region title. And, in addition to the program’s history, there is plenty of talent to draw the attention of potential coaching candidates.
“Cartersville has a great tradition. The football program has been very successful,” Demastus said. “Coaches know that athletes are coming and it doesn’t hurt that they’re going to have a very strong returning squad next year. With what we’ve got returning, plus what we’ve got coming from the eighth grade, that’s a prime opportunity because we have a lot of talent coming back.”
Barden will no longer be developing that talent, but Cartersville coaches and former players have fond memories of their successes in the purple and gold.
“He’s got a bunch of wins, but I guess the best thing I can say is he will really be missed here. We’re losing not only a great coach, but we’re losing a guy that was all about the kids,” Grimmett said. “He wasn’t worried about winning so much, but letting that kid grow and making that young boy a man, not only athletically, but academically and spiritually. That’s what makes a legend. Winning 300 games doesn’t make you a legend, it’s the effect that you have on those young people,”
“It’s a good thing. It’s not a bad thing,” Barden said. “There’s absolutely zero negative for me as far as, I got to be here 18 years. I got to raise my family. I’ve gotten to meet a lot of really good people and I’ve gotten to become a part of a tradition of a school that has a great history. My boys got to be a part of that and now become alumni of Cartersville. They’ll always be from Cartersville and this will be their home.”