NORTH AUGUSTA ó North Augusta High Schoolís search for its next head football coach is down to three finalists.
The position has been vacant for a little more than a month, as longtime head coach and athletic director Dan Pippin was named the head coach at Greenwood High School on Feb. 17. It now appears the Yellow Jackets are closing in on hiring Pippinís successor.
According to sources close to the situation, the school interviewed more than 20 candidates for the opening. The list has been whittled down to current defensive coordinator and head softball coach Derrick Quinn, current Westside (Ga.) head coach Steve Hibbitts and Northern Guilford (N.C.) head coach Brian Thomas.
Quinn was the architect of one of the very best defenses in South Carolina, as the Yellow Jackets were No. 1 in fewest points allowed before the season-ending loss to Northwestern in the Class AAAA semifinals. Though he lacks head football coaching experience, heís the most familiar with the teamís current makeup.
Hibbitts also has ties to North Augusta. He was the teamís defensive coordinator before leaving for Westside, where heís been the head coach since 2010. In four seasons, Hibbittsí teams have a 13-29 record, although that number was hurt after forfeiting four wins last season because of the use of an ineligible player.
Hibbitts is quoted as saying the issue was the result of missing something on the paperwork of a transfer, who was ultimately cleared to play. But the forfeited games stopped a three-year trend of improvement at Westside, denying Hibbitts what would have been his first season with a winning record.
The wild card in the North Augusta search comes in the form of Thomas, who has only been the head coach at Northern Guilford for one season. Thomas followed head coach Johnny Roscoe, who won three straight NCHSAA Division 3AA championships.
The school opened in 2008, and prior to last year, Roscoe was the only head coach in the programís history. He had a 65-6 overall record and a 29-game winning streak. In his first season as head coach, Thomas led the Nighthawks to a 12-3 record, which included a 23-17 loss to Crest in the state championship game. The teamís other two losses were the result of forfeits because of the use of ineligible players.
Thereís a chance that the hire will be announced at the next Aiken County School Board meeting, which is Tuesday night, but it currently doesnít appear on the agenda. Whoever is hired will have big shoes to fill as they try to replace Pippin. In eight seasons, Pippin led the Yellow Jackets to a 70-33 overall record and seven playoff appearances.
Scott Rodgers is the news editor at the North Augusta Star and has been with the paper since 2013. Follow him on Twitter @NAStarRodgers.