Immediately following the school’s first state championship in baseball, the Greenback School Cherokees are looking for a new head coach.
After two highly successful seasons at the helm, Wes Caldwell is returning to Ooltewah High School as an assistant coach under former player and colleague Brian Hitchcox.
While the decision comes as a surprise to many, Caldwell told the school and team before the start of the season.
“This was actually a decision that was made in February,” Caldwell said. “I talked to the school, the coaching staff and the players in February about it. I want to say a huge ‘thank you’ to Greenback for the way that I was treated there. It was an unbelievable experience to get coach with my friends, specifically coach (Greg) Ryan. We’ve been friends for a long time and it’s always been a goal of ours to coach together. To get to coach the boys that I did was unbelievable as well. The Loudon County School system and Greenback School has been wonderful and a slice of heaven.”
Greenback athletic director Jessica Spafford was saddened upon hearing the decision three months ago, but knows this will, ultimately, be the best opportunity for Caldwell and his family.
“I was one of the first ones to know that was something he was considering,” Spafford said. “I’m not going to lie — I was very upset at first. As the days have went on, it’s like mourning a death because I knew that he was leaving and this time was coming, whether they won or lost. We have developed a great friendship and have really gotten to know each other very well over the last year or so, not just as coach and athletic director, but as teachers and friends. I know the relationship he develops with students and athletes is huge and that’s something that’s going to be missed greatly.”
Caldwell served as an assistant under Hitchcox at Ooltewah for two years before taking over the Greenback program in 2017.
“This decision was strictly a financial situation that has to do with my retirement,” Caldwell said. “I have a business in Chattanooga that I run that’s going to be my retirement business. It’s called Hustle Baseball and it’s just a decision that I really had to make. Every bit of my experience with Greenback has been positive. I will be forever grateful to Greenback and the opportunity they gave me.”
In two seasons, Caldwell led the Cherokees to 63 wins, two District 2-1A titles, two Region 1-1A titles and two state tournament appearances, including the school’s first Class 1A state baseball championship this season.
“We’ve had baseball at Greenback for years and we have never been as far as we have been with him,” Spafford said. “The impact of him as a human and as a coach ... there will never be anybody to replace that. His impact will be forever. He will be a legacy at Greenback, period. It will definitely be hard to replace.”
Caldwell credits much of his success to his players and assistant baseball coach Greg Ryan.
“You can’t ask for a better way for your career as a head coach to end than that,” Caldwell said. “The whole experience — the community, the school and the kids that I got to be around as both a teacher and a coach — has been absolutely amazing. I’ve learned a lot from him (Ryan) and he’s made me a better coach. He’s helped me a lot and I want to say that he had a lot to do with this baseball run, too. This was never a one-man show. He’s been involved in every important decision and he has coached our hitters. He has created a culture of winning across everything that he’s been a part of. We were really able to coach this team together.”
Greenback immediately began a search and has honed in on one candidate in particular.
“We are in the process of interviewing and have talked to a couple,” Spafford said. “We’ve actually got someone that we’re very interested in. ... We’re waiting to see about some more information, but this gentleman is every bit Wes Caldwell but not Wes Caldwell. He was easy to talk to and there were a lot of things that he answered for me before I even asked the question. He’s been around and he’s been to several of our ball games. I’m eager to see how things work out and I would love to have him. He would have an impact like Wes has had and is someone that puts me at ease, as far as the responsibilities of what I need as a baseball coach at Greenback.”