SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - On the night when he was awarded the Region Coach of the Year, Rico Campbell wasn’t on the Johnson sideline.
Campbell was in the stands, while former Johnson head coach Utaff Gordon led the Atom Smashers to a 68-63 win over Groves in the Region 3-AAA third place game.
After the game, Gordon wouldn’t offer comment on why he was tasked with leading the team by Johnson administration.
“Because it’s a personnel concern, I can’t comment on it. I’m not at liberty to comment,” Gordon says. “I just know that I was requested to fill in. I guess if you asked the powers that be the questions, they can clarify for you.”
But WTOC was given no comment on the situation by Campbell, Johnson athletic director Ashley Tremble-Hamer, Johnson principal Derrick Dozier-Muhammad, and SCCPSS athletic department officials.
Campbell tweeted a picture of his Coach of the Year award late Friday night, accompanied by the caption “Fin.”
Gordon says he believes he will be tasked with leading the Smashers during the state playoffs as well.
“As far as I know. It’s only on an interim basis,” he noted. “As far as I know, that’s the case.”
Johnson went undefeated in region play in the regular season, but lost in the tournament semifinals to Beach Friday night. Gordon said he was happy to see how the team responded to the upset loss.
“They had something to prove. That bothered them significantly,” Gordon says. “As a result, they just felt like they had to get this next win under their belt. Then we can start our preparation in earnest for the state tournament.”
Gordon says he missed coaching since his retirement. He’s been present on the sideline for the Johnson girls’ team recently. But he adds he didn’t want his return to happen under these kinds of circumstances.
“That’s why I was working with my good friend Coach Lindsey and the girls, because I missed it so much,” Gordon says. “But not to the extent that I wanted a change to occur. I didn’t want to try and take over a team in preparation for a state tournament. But we have to do what we have to do for our organizations.”
From the looks of it, this is Gordon’s team for the rest of the 2019 season. He was asked if his return could spark a “magical run” to a state title similar to the Smashers’ 2013 championship.
Gordon noted a six-game winning streak to earn a title wasn’t out of his mind.
“I’m certainly hoping so,” he says. “The only difference in a magical run is my middle name isn’t Houdini. But I’m looking forward to it."