Football: A.L. Brown's Massey steps down
By Mike London
KANNAPOLIS — Ron Massey announced his retirement as A.L. Brown’s head football coach and athletics director on Friday, but his working days aren’t quite over.
While most of the world ate lunch on Monday, Massey was tackling a spring cleaning session in the basement storage rooms of Bullock Gym with considerable gusto.
Massey, 53, plans to stay on as AD through the end of the school year, and while he’s put in 30 years with North Carolina’s school system (qualifying for full retirement benefits), he’s also still young enough that his coaching career may resume elsewhere.
Whispers that Massey would be stepping down or moving on after 11 seasons at the helm of one of the state’s storied programs have circulated for months. He said he recently finalized his decision.
“When you get to this point, you’re on a year-to-year basis,” he said. “When we started working on evaluations of things we might want to change for next year and when we met as a staff to get started on our summer program, it just didn’t feel right. My heart was not in it the way it needed to be, not the way this program needed for it to be.”
Massey called Friday’s meeting because he didn’t want the players hearing about the change in their lives by word of mouth at Pizza Hut or What-A-Burger.
There was no press conference. There were no cameras flashing and no bands playing when Massey bid farewell to the troops, and that was consistent with his track record. He was private and low-key for a football coach, never overly comfortable in the glare of publicity, even when it was favorable.
He was one of the greatest in history at pointing a finger at himself after a painful loss and pointing a finger at his assistants and players after a stirring victory.
The dynamic individuals who preceded Massey at A.L. Brown — Bob Boswell, a defensive genius who got the program rolling, and Bruce Hardin, an offensive genius who directed two 3A championships, are members of halls of fame. Massey may receive that accolade down the road.
As far as wins and losses, Massey’s 120-32 record at Brown fell neatly in between Hardin’s 121-24 in 11 seasons and Boswell’s 102-38-1 in 13.
The biggest check-mark for Massey isn’t that his teams won their share. It’s that it’s hard to find a rival coach or ex-player who has anything negative to say about him.
“He’s run a great program,” said Todd Hagler, the Brown assistant coach responsible for the offensive line and strength and conditioning. “He’s done it the right way, treated kids fair and with dignity. He’s taught me a lot about integrity. Not everyone likes to hear the truth, but Ron told the truth.”
Defensive coordinator Noah Lyon, who came to Brown from Richmond County in 2002, said Massey’s record is underappreciated. Brown’s worst season during his tenure was 9-4, and the Wonders never lost a first-round playoff game under Massey.
“Go back and look — there’s no 6-5s and no 7-4s in there,” Lyon said. “And Ron’s teams were conference champs all but two seasons.”
Brown has won so frequently for so long (the last losing season was in 1977) that there’s a belief the Wonders are blessed annually with superior athletes. That perception is mostly myth. It would be hard to name a Brown mega-star between Aundrae Allison, whose last season was 2001, and Travis Riley, who finished an injury-plagued career last fall.
“A lot of people think we just throw ’em out there,” Lyon said. “Believe me, there’s two or three times a year, when we’re the ones with a matchup problem. But this is still a blue-collar community, and as far as work ethic, I’d put our kids up there with anyone. Our kids outwork people, and we try to out-coach ’em.”
Massey would never admit to out-coaching anyone, but there are times when he did — or his staff did.
Hagler and the weight room where the clanging of metal and the growing of muscle never stops, also contributed to Massey’s success.
“Building football players is a process,” Hagler explained. “Our freshmen don’t look any different than anyone else’s, but when they’re juniors and seniors, we do expect them to look a little different.”
Hagler’s son, Trace, is a freshman linebacker, so Massey’s retirement decision affected him on both a professional and personal level.
“I was looking forward to my own son getting to play for Ron, and I guess that’s the ultimate compliment one coach can give another,” Hagler said. “I think this program is what high school sports is supposed to be about, and Ron’s been a very large part of that.”
Massey held two full-time jobs for 11 years. Head football coach, with all the scrutiny and criticism that comes with that role in Kannapolis, is a load. Serving as athletics director, trying to do what’s right for a laundry list of other sports, is equally challenging.
Massey said he’s been able to deal with the workload — he’s also handled driver’s ed — mostly because of Lyon, the assistant AD, and Susan Crites, the athletic secretary.
“Sure, it’s been a lot, but I’ve had some great support from them and the adminstration,” Massey said.
Massey won’t miss the headache of scheduling, but he will miss his relationships with players and coaches. Obviously, he’ll miss Friday nights at Memorial Stadium.
He looks back on his 120 wins at Brown, including a trip to the state championship game in 2008, with a degree of satisfaction, although a lot of people wanted even more.
“I sat down as a young coach and laid out goals, and for the most part, I accomplished them,” he said. “Everyone wanted us to win state championships, and no one wanted that more than me. But as a coach, you just want to make sure you put a competitive team on the field every year. We did that.
“Beyond the field, I think the kids that played here will look back on football as a positive experience and football will help lay the groundwork for what they’ll face in life.”
The search has started for an individual, or perhaps individuals, to replace a good man who was part of something special for more than a decade.
“The administration will find someone great,” Massey said. “I have no doubt.”