By Ian Guerin
SCVarsity.com/Deep South Football Regional Editor, Coastal/Pee Dee Area
MURRELLS INLET | There’s little debate as to which school in Horry County has had about the oddest sets of circumstances surrounding its football coaching jobs.
In the last six years, St. James has had four different head coaches, a search in which all three finalists withdrew, one man come out of football retirement to take over and another leave for the ministry.
The Sharks’ brass believes Tommy Norwood is the man to end that turnover.
On Monday, the 62-year-old with a winning pedigree and a penchant for long-term sustainability was approved by Horry County Schools as the next St. James coach. He served last fall as the team’s defensive coordinator after 31 years between two schools in North Carolina.
“I think a big thing is stability. All of those people, they weren’t here very long,” Norwood said Monday evening. “As long as I’m healthy, I enjoy going to school every day. I enjoy coaching. I don’t have many hobbies. … If we’re not successful in a couple years, I’m not going to walk in and say ‘I’m not doing it anymore.’ That goes against what I stand for.”
Norwood will replace Joey Price, who left for a job as the pastor at a church in Loris in April. It was at that time that Price advised Norwood to pursue the position and also for St. James Principal Vann Pennell to make the process official.
The school posted the job, narrowing it down to a handful of finalists and conducted seven interviews of various intensity. Norwood was selected over Virginia coach Mark Palmer, who was also a finalist a year ago when Price was hired.
“The ones that we got it narrowed down to were all very viable candidates,” Pennell said. “Because it was so late, we may not have had quite the number we did in the past, but the quality of personnel was high – not only good football coaches but good men. Every hire since I’ve been here, they could get this to a winning program. It’s about finding that consistency.”
Pennell was ciing the situations regarding each of the school’s last three coaches. Mark Fischer missed time after being diagnosed with Cancer and later returned to his old job in Virginia. Robby Brown came out of football retirement and led the school to its best season in school history in 2015, only to leave after his third year the following season. And then Price departed following one year.
Immediately, Norwood was named the interim head coach, and most believed the job was his to lose.
Before joining Price at St. James, he spent 19 seasons at Ragsdale, N.C., and another 12 at Southeast Guilford. He was 222-138 combined at those schools.
His approval by the HCS board came four years after he was nearly selected for another job in the county. In 2014, he was one of the three finalists for the North Myrtle Beach job that eventually went to Blair Hardin. Coincidentally, Price was the third finalist for that job.
“I was really not looking to leave when the North Myrtle Beach job opened up,” Norwood said, adding that he was asked to apply for that job by a friend in the area. “If I had been offered, I probably would have taken it. It’s not that I was searching. [Now at St. James] it all fell into place at the right time.”