Rumors running amok about Southwest Virginia coaching carousel

George Thwaites • Feb 17, 2007 at 6:51 AM

Two years ago, the Lonesome Pine District could boast of having three Virginia High School League Hall of Famers actively coaching football in its ranks.

This week, some people have been wondering if there will be even one remaining in the fold next fall.

The LPD lost one of its luminaries when Appalachia's Tom Turner died suddenly last spring shortly after he retired.

The league was already expecting the exit of Gate City's Nick Colobro when the Blue Devils move to the newly forming Clinch Mountain District next fall. It is now possible Colobro won't even be coaching in Virginia. He was slated to interview for the Sullivan Central head job on Friday. No word on that yet.

It's been no secret that Colobro, who led Gate City to Group AA and Group A state championships, is amenable to retiring in Virginia and coaching in Tennessee. He lives in Sullivan County, about a 15-minute drive from the Central campus.

Far more surprising was this week's news of Abingdon High School approaching Powell Valley's Phil Robbins in hopes that he might resuscitate the Falcons' moribund football program. Abingdon's most recent head coach, Ray Gregory, was fired after being relieved of his duties in the midst of the 2007 season.

This week, Abingdon made Robbins an attractive coaching job offer that entailed no teaching duties. He made a counter offer including several key stipulations that he felt needed to be met for the move to be viable.

Abingdon evidently didn't give Robbins what he wanted and, as of this weekend, negotiations appeared to have fallen through. Salary, he confirmed, was not a bone of contention. Far from it.

Despite rampant rumors to the contrary, Robbins has plenty of job security at the Big Stone Gap gridiron powerhouse. Any coach who has authored seven Group A state championship seasons shouldn't be in much danger of being ousted while on the verge of competing for an eighth. Not in a sane world, anyway.

Abingdon's faith in Robbins as a program builder was not misplaced. It is true that Powell Valley's program had a good foundation, including a previous state title, before Robbins arrived. But there is little question that he has done a magnificent job building on what he found. Powell Valley's football infrastructure - including feeder system, facilities, equipment, coaching staffs and training regimens - is among Virginia's finest. It sets a standard to be emulated by other programs that want to win.

Of course, the same could be said about Gate City under Colobro, another exemplary steward of an inherited tradition.

In contrast, the sorry state of Abingdon's football infrastructure is no secret in Southwest Virginia. It's been in a complete funk since Randy Flinchum left in the 1990s. Evidently, athletic resources have been systematically allocated elsewhere for a long time in Falcon Country.

You can only blame the coaches so much.

Back in the late 1970s, Robbins demonstrated that he could turn zeroes into heroes when he converted bottom-feeding Christiansburg into a New River District title contender. That was a tough league that produced three Group AA state champs in that predivisional era: Radford, Blacksburg and Giles.

One doesn't doubt that Robbins, a savvy organizer, logician and fund-raiser, could accomplish a lot at Abingdon. Even if he had to do it all by himself.

But at this stage of a coaching career that has been so successful, why should he sign on to make bricks without straw?

If Abingdon is committed enough to football, perhaps Robbins will come. If it isn't committed, plenty of other places are. Including where he already is.

George Thwaites is a sports writer for the Kingsport Times-News. E-mail him at gthwaitess@timesnews.net.

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