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Williams exits on his own terms

By Mike London
Salisbury Post
LANDIS ó Eight years is enough for U.S. presidents and South Rowan baseball coach Linn Williams.
With no immediate crisis on the horizon and everyone feeling pretty good about this season’s 16-9 mark, Williams is confident the time is right to drop the reins and spend more quality time with his family.
“It’s not a snap decision, and I didn’t wait for a good year to leave,” Williams said with a chuckle. “People kid me I’m retiring because I finally won’t be able to write ‘Shore’ on my lineup card next year, but that’s not it.”
Williams has worn a uniform and been on some kind of team since he was 5 years old, so saying goodbye to coaching is a big step.
He’ll turn 40 this fall. He spent his 30s coaching South defensive backs, softball players and baseball players.
He spent his 20s playing at Davidson and coaching Charlotte, Davidson, Mount Pleasant and Concord American Legion squads.
He was the head baseball coach at Mount Pleasant when he was 26, so he hasn’t spent many spring evenings at home the last 13 years.
Williams’ wife, Tonya, has a demanding job as an assistant principal at Weddington Hills Elementary in Cabarrus County, but she’s always supported his spending time with the game he loves.
So what’s changed?
“My oldest son is 8 and playing sports, and the youngest will be 4 in August and is ready to be involved with athletics,” Williams said. “I missed some of my son’s soccer games when I was still coaching football, and lately I’ve been missing some of his baseball games. You hate to miss even one of your kid’s games.”
Josh Vinson, who is resigning as South’s athletics director at the end of the school year, had high praise for Williams.
“We’re proud of the job Linn did the last eight years,” he said. “We can’t be disappointed in his decision because all of us understand the pulls of family.”
Twenty years from now, people will calculate Williams’ 97-99 record at South and figure he must have been a mediocre coach.
South players, parents and fans who have been part of the Williams years know different. In the environment in which it was achieved, Williams’ record is remarkable.
South spent seven of his eight seasons in the 4A CPC. The Raiders swam upstream against bigger schools with bigger numbers and bigger talent, but 2006 was the only rough year.
“It’s not like the CPC was an easy league with West Forsyth, Mount Tabor, Davie and North Davidson putting out all those great teams,” Vinson said. “But we more than held our own.”
Williams was named South’s head coach in June of 2000. Thad Chrismon was the pitching coach throughout Williams’ tenure, and Greg Yanz always handled the jayvees.
“Obviously we couldn’t have accomplished the things we did without Thad and Greg,” Williams said.
Accomplishments include two CPC regular-season championships, the 2003 CPC tournament championship, four playoff appearances and this year’s Peeler Easter tournament championship, an event South hadn’t won since 1996.
Williams shared Rowan County Coach of the Year honors in 2001 and 2005, and he was the lone winner in 2003. His teams showed a special resilience and often responded to one-sided beatings with amazing efforts.
In 2001, the Raiders lost 23-6 to West Forsyth when the Titans put up 15 runs in the sixth inning. South came back to outlast R.J. Reynolds 11-10 in its next outing.
“Those early years were a blast,” Williams said. “That first year we won more than anyone expected. Then in 2002, we’re second in the CPC.”
One of the victims of West Forsyth’s infamous 15-run inning was sophomore lefty Andrew Morgan, who shrugged off that disaster and became the signature athlete of Williams’ tenure.
As a junior, Morgan blew away 12 Independence hitters in a memorable first-round playoff game.
As a senior, Morgan dominated. His first-round shutout of Chapel Hill in the 4A playoffs and a dazzling effort by Daniel Moore against East Forsyth pushed South to Round 3. Morgan pitched a three-hitter, but South lost 1-0 to North Forsyth and future N.C. State standout Gib Hobson.
“That was fun because we were kind of a .500 team and then all of a sudden we’re making a nice run,” Williams said. “Andrew was that one superstar player we had in my eight years.”
The 2005 season produced Williams’ greatest disappointment. South stood 14-4 before losing its last five games. It shared the CPC title but missed the playoffs.
“What happened is still a mystery,” Williams said.
Williams is proudest of the work he did during the 2006-07 school year, a testing time he calls the “year of the split.”
A new school opened a few miles away, and South’s program barely existed. Nine seniors had graduated from a 5-18 team. Six former Raiders, including three good pitchers, wore the bright colors of the Carson Cougars.
No one remaining on campus had ever pitched a varsity inning. Some predicted South wouldn’t win a game.
Instead, it won 11.
South lost a 17-0 nightmare at West Forsyth that season. But the Raiders came back in their next outing to beat East Rowan behind Jordan Lowder.
Then, on senior night, again behind Lowder, they avenged the loss to West Forsyth, one of the state’s best teams. There were no dry eyes.
“Looking back, we were up and down and I would have liked more consistency,” Williams said. “But we always battled in a tough league, and our guys proved they could play with the big boys.”
South returned to 3A this season and was 15-4 late in the year. It closed shop at 16-9.
“I think we were always prepared to play this year and never did play bad,” Williams said. “We just came up a little short at the end, but it was a great group to go out with.”
Numerous Raiders have gone on to play college ball in the last eight years. They still return to see Williams.
“That makes you realize there’s a lot more to coaching than wins and losses,” Williams said. “The relationships ó that’s what matters.”
South principal Judd Starling hates to see Williams exit the dugout. He appreciates that there is a lot more to Williams than 97-99.
“We’re glad we’ve still got Linn in the classroom because he’s one of the best social studies teachers I’ve ever seen,” Starling said. “He was good with this community, good with the kids and he was a great coach. I saw him take teams to levels that maybe they shouldn’t have reached, but he still took them there.”
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Contact Mike London at 704-797-4259 or mlondon@salisburypost.com.

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