Hammonds leaves Pigeon Forge
Six weeks after his Tigers ended the 2012 season with a 29-20 loss to the Gatlinburg-Pittman Highlanders, six-year coach Lee Hammonds has stepped down as the team’s coach on Monday.
Interestingly, Hammonds, who was a Highlanders assistant prior to taking over the Pigeon Forge job in 2007, will rejoin the his father Benny Hammonds at Gatlinburg-Pittman — as will Matt Evans, another former GPHS assistant who for the last two years had been the head coach at The King’s Academy in Seymour.
“I have an opportunity,” Lee Hammonds said Monday afternoon. “I don’t know how much longer my dad’s going to be in (coaching), and I’ve got an opportunity to go back there and coach with him. I jumped at the chance. I’m going to enjoy being an assistant coach and I’ll work my butt off with whatever responsibility that’s given to me.
“I talked to Mr. (Ben) Clabo (the PFHS principal) today, he accepted the resignation, and there’s no hard feelings. I appreciate what he did, and (former principal) coach (Perry) Schrandt, and Athletic Director Jim Lethco, Superintendent Mr. (Jack) Parton. They showed a lot of support and gave us the opportunity to try and be the best that we could be. More importantly, I just appreciate the kids and assistant coaches. They’ll be fine. Nobody’s bigger than the program.
“It was hard to tell the football team,” he continued. “But they came up and hugged me and shook my hand and told me how much they appreciated us. So that helped. It is hard. But we’ve always said nobody’s bigger than the program. They’ll have football at Pigeon Forge next year, and somebody will probably do a heck of a lot better job than I will.”
In his time as the PFHS coach, Hammonds posted a 25-36 record, including a 7-4 season in 2011. That 7-4 mark is the best ever posted by the Tigers and led to the team’s first playoff appearance since 2005. It’s also the only season the Tigers have ever finished over .500. Hammonds leaves Pigeon Forge with the most coaching victories in team history, and has the highest career winning percentage of the school’s four football coaches (.409).
Hammonds said Monday that the decision to leave was 100 percent his choice, and not because of either something the school or he had done.
“I’m leaving on my own,” Hammonds said. “(It’s) totally my choice. 100 percent my choice. I wasn’t in trouble over anything, I wasn’t fired. It was 100 percent my choice.
“At 7:30 this morning I officially resigned,” he said. “I need to re-energize and get my batteries charged again. I don’t regret anything I did at Pigeon Forge, and I enjoyed the six years. But I feel like it’s time to move on a little bit.
“Pigeon Forge was good to me, and I’ve got nothing but good things to say about how they treated me,” Hammonds said.
Hammonds joined the Tigers in 2007 after the team went 0-10 under Mike Bramblett in 2006.
The team slowly improved under Hammonds, going 3-7 in 2007 and again in 2008, before back-to-back 4-6 seasons in 2009 and 2010.
In 2011 the Tigers finally got over the hump with a 7-3 regular season before losing to Chuckey-Doak in round one of the TSSAA playoffs.
“This profession is so results-oriented,” Hammonds said. “We had a good year (in 2011), and had some injuries slow us down a little bit this year.
“We felt real optimistic going into the season until some of those happened. But it’s a life-lesson. You can’t dwell on that. You just have to deal with (the injuries) and go on. When we took over in 2007 the program had been 0-10 (the year before). You just have to get the kids to believe that they can compete and perform at a high level to try to win football games. That was a task and it didn’t happen overnight. That was probably a two, three or four-year process.
“Pigeon Forge gave me that opportunity to be a head coach, and it makes you a better coach, you get stronger, and now you have a greater respect for head coaches — knowing what goes into it and how important it is to have good assistants, which we had at Pigeon Forge.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to coach with him and be back at my alma mater.”
Gatlinburg-Pittman coach Benny Hammonds, Lee’s father, is also excited to have him back.
“I think both of them (Lee Hammonds and Matt Evans) are good moves for our program,” Hammonds said. “I know the programs that lost them lost two good coaches, but we’re glad to have them back and gain their expertise as far as coaching high school football.
“They’ve both been away for a while, but now they’re back, and we feel like it’s a big plus for our football program.”