Jimmy Hires said he didn’t make a speech last Saturday night in Dalton at his induction into the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
“(Hall of Famer) Chuck Miller introduced me and read a biography of me,” Hires said. “I didn’t have to make a speech.”
Had he spoken, Hires might’ve started by thanking his former players and let it roll from there. That’s what he did during an interview Thursday.
“The first people I’d like to thank are the kids that played for me,’” said Hires, who won three state Class A basketball titles while at Richmond Hill High School and turned the then-tiny coastal school into a state powerhouse.
“I was fortunate to have a lot of outstanding players and great kids that believed in me,” Hires said. “I hope I made a difference in their lives. I wanted to win, they wanted to win, but at the same time, you just hope you can also make a difference in other areas of their life.”
Up next was family — meaning Hires’ wife Libby, his daughter Kala and son Jay. After all, coaching at the high school level can mean more time spent with teams than family, more time with other people’s kids than your own.
And Hires spent nearly 800 games as a head high school basketball coach — most of them at Richmond Hill, where he started in 1981, but he also coached at Wayne County High School.
Hires went 647-151 as a head coach. His family helped put that record together, he said.
“When you’re coaching there are a lot of hours involved and a coaches’ family, they go through what you go through,” Hires said. “They worry about it sometimes more than you do, but you worry about being successful and winning a ball game and it takes a wife understanding the pressures and putting up with it, and also children who feel the pressure and have to deal with it also, so I’d like to thank them too.”
And then there are the myriad coaches Hires knows from his 30 years as a head coach and nine as an assistant. Coaches like 2005 GACA HOF member William “Billy” Hall, the longtime track and football coach at Glennville High who nominated Hires for the GACA Hall of Fame and remains a close, “true” friend, Hires said. And he’d thank coaches like Howard O. Warren and John Donaldson and Kendall Keith – all mentors and friends who’ve had an impact on Hires in one way or another over his long career.
And then he thank the fans.
“The fans of Richmond Hill have been awfully good to me,” Hires said, recalling the glory days when the Wildcats were routinely playing for state titles. They were in the Final Four five times. They made the playoffs 16 years under Hires, winning 10 region titles. And that translated into packed gyms and an excited fan base.
“The support here was unbelievable,” he said. “We were very small when I got here in 1981, there were only 89 kids in the top three grades, but we had some good basketball players.”
Seven years after Hires arrival, the Wildcats won the 1988 championship. They won the 1993 and 1994 titles, too. In those days, Richmond Hill was still a sleepy, small town where everybody knew everybody. And everybody followed Hires’ Wildcats.
“When we were in the state playoffs and the state championships back then, everybody in Richmond Hill would be in Macon (the site of the GHSA championships),” he said. “There’d be nobody left here in Richmond Hill. We could’ve gotten robbed real easy because the whole town was up there.”
Hires is from Odom, a small town in Wayne County. He grew up playing basketball and was good enough at it to play at Brunswick Junior College — now Coastal College — and then Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville.
“When I went to college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he said. “But that was what I wanted to do, coach.”
Hires spent time as a high school assistant before becoming head basketball coach at Wayne County High School in 1973. He then almost took a job at Brunswick Community before he decided to accept the offer from Richmond Hill High School in 1981.
It was a good move for Hires, and for Richmond Hill.
“That’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done, come to Richmond Hill,” he said. “I feel like I just got led in the right direction to come here, and I’m glad I did.”
Hires, who also coached baseball, cross country and last year coached the RHHS boys’ golf team to the state tournament for the first time in the program’s history, is known far and wide for his coaching style – which, to put it mildly, was intense.
Loudly intense, at times.
But it wasn’t rehearsed.
“Everybody’s got their own coaching style,” Hires said. “My temperament, it being the way it was, it’s just the way I was. I was probably a little more emotionally involved in a game than some coaches and sometimes I’d try to calm that down a little bit, but once the game starts again you’re all caught up in it again.”
The key, he said, was knowing how to get kids to give him their best without pushing too hard.
“As a coach, when you’re dealing with kids you’ve got to know how hard you can drive a kid, but when you knock him down, you’ve got to pick him back up,” Hires said. “You’ve got to pick a kid back up.”
He had talent, he said, but also took pride in taking those role players who understood how they could help the team.
“We had some very talented kids down through the years and you wanted to take a great talent and make him become a leader, but then we had those great role kids, the ones who were maybe not as good but you’d make the most out of him,” Hires said. “I really focused on taking those kids and making great role players out of them.”
At least two of Hires former players are now head basketball coaches – RHHS boys’ basketball coach William Henderson and Southern Arkansas University men’s coach Andy Sharpe. There’ve also been dozens of stars over the years, players who’ve signed Division I scholarships and others who could have.
Hires didn’t single out a single player Thursday when talking about the Wildcats, he thanked them all – but he knew what kind of kids he was looking for when he saw them.
“Everybody looks at what kind of ability a player has, and that’s what you look at first of all,” Hires said. “But I also looked at them as a kid and as a person and wanted to know how hard of a worker he would be and what kind of ability he had as a leader or as a role player.”
His finest teams — in terms of wins and sometimes just in terms of being teams — had a little of all that, Hires said.
“All the teams that won championships and some that didn’t, they had leaders and talented players and guys who accepted their roles on the teams,” he said. “Not everybody can be a leader … it also takes those guys accepting their roles on a team.”
Hires also didn’t single out any games as standing out over a career that lasted some three decades before he retired from coaching basketball after the 2004 season.
“When I go back and look at it, there were so many memories,” he said. “I’d like to say maybe the first state championship we won, I’d like to think that one stands out, but then you go back and look at some of the teams that didn’t even go to state – it’s just hard to say one memory stands out over the rest of them.”
He is, of course, still convinced defense was key to the Wildcats success.
“Our teams were defense minded, and our scores showed that and the scores of the teams we played showed that we believed in defense,” he said.
He’s also got advice for young coaches, if asked.
“For any coach starting out, the No. 1 thing is to be able to deal with young men,” Hires said. “You’ve got to be able to take young men and mold them and try to make them better, not just as players. You’ve got to realize there’s more to the game than winning, and I did realize that.”
That’s because players are quick to spot phonies, he said, though not in those exact words.
“I think players are quick to realize it and perceive that you know there’s more to the game than winning, and they’ll know that you care about them,” he said. “And also, players can recognize real quick if you know what you’re doing.”
Not that Hires started out as a Hall of Fame coach. He just became one.
“When I was first starting out, I never thought a whole lot about one day getting inducted into a Hall of Fame,” he said. “I was just coaching. But after going through it, it was really a great experience.”