I’m not really one to throw my opinion as to who the top candidate should be in coaching searches, especially in the high school world.
However, I can’t but help voice my opinion on this one. If you read the front page, you saw and hopefully read, that Zach Jones is leaving Lumberton. It’s crazy to think that Jones has not just left a significant mark on Lumberton football, but set a new standard for the program both on and off the field.
There are a lot of reasons why the Lumberton community will remember Jones’ time. Of course, taking the Panthers to the state title game three times helps, but how much he showed he cared for his players is something the community and the school itself noticed. Jones leaving Lumberton is bittersweet because the program and community will miss his enthusiasm and impact. Yet at the same time, it seems that the community has recognized that he deserves to take the head coaching position at 3A power Magee.
Jones was a perfect fit while at Lumberton since he was a native as the community eagerly wanted to rally around its football team. While Jones deserves a lot of credit, the one guy who was with him every step of the way was Jonathan Ladner. Ladner was not only the team’s defensive coordinator for the last six seasons, but Jones’ right-hand man.
In the last six years, the Panther defense has been a consistent backbone for Lumberton. Last year, the Panthers allowed just 93 points through the season. If you examine that further and take out the 32-0 loss against Bay Springs and a pick-six throw in the playoffs, then through 12 straight games the Panthers allowed a mind boggling 55 points. Ladner’s defense pitched four shutouts and had three other games where teams managed to score just once.
In the last five seasons, Lumberton has averaged just under 28 turnovers and 18.5 sacks per season. In the last two years, the Panthers have also recorded over 100 tackles for loss. Not to mention, Lumberton returns nine starters on defense for the 2021 season.
The Panthers have a chance to make another run with the number of starters they return. The promotion of Ladner would very well keep the program’s current culture alive and well.
Ladner, like Jones, is just as passionate to see his players be successful off the football field rather than just on the field. It’s been key in Jones’ culture, with Ladner playing a large role in that belief and practice.
Another key similarity is that Ladner is also a Lumberton native like Jones. Being a Lumberton native at the helm has played a vital part of the last six years in building the connection and involvement from the community.
With the number of starters returning, the Lumberton job is attractive. I think the only way the position should go to someone else is if you have an applicant that is somehow guaranteed to be the next Bill Belichick or Nick Saban. Even then, I still don’t think I would be sold.
It just makes sense to me that Jonathan Ladner is the man for the job.
Of course, that’s just my two cents and even if Ladner isn’t the guy who gets the job, I will happily be there on Friday nights watching Panther football.
Andrew Abadie of Pine Belt Sports can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @PineBeltSPORTS.