By Steve Williams
The news that George Quarles was leaving Maryville High for Furman University was surprising but understandable.
Quarles could have made the move to the college ranks years ago had he chose to do so. This time the opportunity and situation afforded him was just too good to pass up. He would be going back to his old school – Furman – and reconnecting with Clay Hendrix, who also is returning to Furman as the Purple Paladins’ new head coach after 10 years at Air Force as offensive line coach and associate head coach.
I did not know of Hendrix until I read the story about his hiring by Furman last week. His resume is quite impressive. Many attending Hendrix’s introductory press conference applauded when he said Furman would get back to running the football and when it does pass the ball, it would be explosive throws down the middle of the field.
You also have to give Hendrix credit for hiring Quarles as assistant head coach and tight ends coach, even if it will be his first collegiate post. Now that he has taken this step, I won’t be surprised if George becomes a head coach someday on the college level. That is if he wants to. He doesn’t seem to be the type that likes to move around a lot.
Quarles was head coach at Maryville for 18 seasons. Some who were around when he began might have thought at one time he wouldn’t make it to his third season.
Tim Hammontree had guided the Red Rebels to a perfect 15-0 record and state championship in 1998. Quarles started 10-3 in 1999 and was 0-4 in 2000 when his coaching career really took off as that team rebounded to win 11 straight games and the state title.
“Well, let’s keep him around a little while and see if he can win consistently,” surely one of the veteran Maryville followers once said.
After the early 10-7 takeoff, Quarles went 240-9. Yep, that’s pretty consistent. That also included 11 state championships and four state runner-up finishes. Only three seasons did Quarles’ Red Rebels not play in the state finals – 1999, 2003 and this past season.
Yes, you read it right … prior to the 2016 season, Maryville had been in the state championship game 12 years in a row! That’s simply mind-boggling.
In 1984 Quarles was a senior quarterback for Coach Craig Kisabeth at Jefferson County High School and I was covering the Patriots in their golden era of football for The Knoxville Journal. George was a junior wide receiver and defensive back on the Patriots’ state runner-up team in 1983.
In my time at The Knoxville Focus the past few years, I’ve covered some Maryville games and e-mailed Coach Quarles several times. He’s always been very professional and helpful. You would never know he’s the winningest high school coach in the nation over the past 10 seasons . George has handled success well. He’s just a down-to-earth guy.
They say he’s always been that way in the high school and in the community. They say there’s no better role model or anyone more humble. His peers respected him, even though they lost to him and his teams on a regular basis.
Knox County teams have lost close to 100 straight games against Quarles since Central and Halls beat him in that 0-4 start in 2000.
In an interview with Scott Cummings in August of 2013, the former Knoxville West coach was asked if there was really a Maryville mystic.
“Oh sure, yeah,” answered Cummings. “We’d all be lying if we said there wasn’t. They’ve earned it. That’s probably the highest honor in football you can give to someone, maybe even more than dynasty is magic. Whatever you want to label it – it’s special.”
Cummings said Maryville’s success started in its youth program. He pointed to Maryville having “true middle school football” and a community that “lives and breathes” high school football as other contributing factors.
“The biggest thing,” he added, “is they’re being taught really good technique.”
And to top it off, Cummings called Quarles “one of the best play callers ever.”
The new head coach at Furman must have known that, too.
Maryville had a good football program before Quarles arrived on the scene. Ted Wilson, TSSAA Hall of Fame coach, guided the Red Rebels to state titles in 1970, 1976 and 1978 before leaving to coach at Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett. Then Hammontree’s state crown in 1998 ended a 20-year drought.
Maryville will continue to win and have a good program, but to think the next coach could match what his predecessor did over the long haul isn’t realistic.
Quarles is one tough act to follow times a hundred.