The G.Q. story

How a fateful hire unknowingly birthed a dynasty

Maryville coach George Quarles, far left, looks over the Rebel offense during a scrimmage with Anderson County on Tuesday as former Maryville coach and Mavericks’ defensive coordinator Tim Hammontree, far right, checks his defense.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Maryville coach George Quarles, far left, looks over the Rebel offense during a scrimmage with Anderson County on Tuesday as former Maryville coach and Mavericks’ defensive coordinator Tim Hammontree, far right, checks his defense.

Hammontree instructs the Maverick secondary during a stoppage.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Hammontree instructs the Maverick secondary during a stoppage.

Maryville head coach George Quarles watches the play develop on Tuesday.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Maryville head coach George Quarles watches the play develop on Tuesday.

Anderson County assistant coach Tim Hammontree cuts up during the scrimmage with former Rebel and current Maryville assistant coach Brandon Waters.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Anderson County assistant coach Tim Hammontree cuts up during the scrimmage with former Rebel and current Maryville assistant coach Brandon Waters.

D.B., huh?

Interesting, lots of headline possibilities, but it’s just not G.Q.

Initials were all former Maryville High School coach Tim Hammontree would volunteer when asked who else had applied for the job as the Rebels new offensive coordinator/freshman/junior varsity coach 16 years ago.

D.B. had/has big-time college credentials we were able to learn, but it’s fair to assume fans of Maryville football have been more than satisfied in the new assistant coach they got. All the new guy did, once he became the head coach four years later, was construct a dynasty.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Hammontree and his one-time assistant, current Maryville head coach George Quarles, were once again directing their teams inside Shields Stadium. The roles of head coach and assistant were somewhat reversed, with Hammontree hired as new defensive coordinator at Anderson County earlier this month.

The defending Class 6A champion Rebels and Mavericks got together for a 7-on-7 passing scrimmage, with a sizable scattering of spectators on hand to watch Maryville senior and North Carolina commitment Patton Robinette put Hammontree’s charges through their paces.

In Robinette, Quarles enters the 2011 season with one of the nation’s top prep quarterbacks at the helm. Hammontree had one like that once, an incoming freshman who would change everything when it came to Maryville football. The Rebels ran the wing-T back then, but not when this kid got ready in a year or so. This kid was the Joe Namath of Parkside, and Hammontree was taking no chances with his grooming.

“I’d known Quarles’ dad for a long time,” Hammontree said. “He was the athletics director at Jefferson County High School. There’s not a better family than George’s. He (Quarles) put first things first. He understood why he was coaching.”

Hammontree first learned of Toki McCray when he saw the latter throwing the ball around in the front yard with Hammontree’s son Cole, a Maryville Middle classmate of McCray’s.

“When he (McCray) would throw the ball around with Cole and just flick his wrist,” Tim Hammontree said, “the rotation was so quick that his ball ran true.”

McCray didn’t take Maryville High School by storm his freshman season. He spent the entire the first year with Quarles on the freshman and junior varsity teams. While the varsity continued with the wing-T, the freshmen were spreading the field and throwing deep.

“I’ve always been enamored with the passing game,” Quarles said, “and coach Hammontree pushed that.”

When Quarles once told him the new offense wasn’t going so well, Hammontree said he responded: “Just keep throwing.”

“George called all the plays (for all three teams) the first year,” Hammontree said, “every game, with nobody in the press box and no headset.”

While Quarles cultivated the new offense behind the scenes, other more noticeable changes were also taking place.

Black jerseys and pants become the dominant uniform for the Rebels for home games. By design, it made finding the football no easy chore for defenses during the last days of the wing-T at Maryville. Local merchant Andy Tinker, whose business, Pokey’s & Sports, supplies logo items for all the county high schools, helped come up with a new logo for the helmets.

“The Men in Black,” as the Rebels came to be known, were just about ready.

“We just did what our players allowed us to do,” Quarles said. “We just knew we had to be balanced.”

By McCray’s sophomore season in 1996, the Rebels off to a 3-2 start, Hammontree decided to end the wait. In a move that stunned many, McCray replaced left-hander Will Curtis as the starter for the Week 6 game at Smyrna. Maryville promptly got hammered, 24-14, with McCray intercepted several times.

“I’ll never forget coach Hammontree saying, ‘Be patient. Just keep doing it,’” Quarles said.

Moving Curtis from quarterback to receiver to make room for McCray ruffled none too few feathers among Rebel fans, but the change made sense for more reasons than one, Quarles said.

“Will’s problem was he didn’t have Will to throw to,” he said.

A week later, McCray and the Rebels bombed Morristown West, 54-28, and, while it would take a few more games to work out all the kinks, the state was on notice. A year later, the Rebels were in the state championship game, where a loaded Pearl-Cohn team humbled Maryville, 36-16.

“I think it was really important to lose that game,” Cole Hammontree said.

A year after that, the Rebels won it all, going 15-0 and securing Maryville’s first state crown since the Ted Wilson-era of the late 1970s.

A growing family and the lure of coaching at one of the country’s biggest high schools led Hammontree to leave Maryville for metropolitan Atlanta after 1998’s championship season. Current Maryville assistant David Ellis was everyone’s first choice — even Quarles’ — to replace Hammontree. Quarles said Ellis informed him he was content to remain as an assistant and offensive line coach if the former would take the Maryville job and keep him on staff. The Maryville administration backed the move.

“I still say if coach Ellis had wanted the job, he would have gotten it,” Quarles said. “Him deciding he would stay where he was was a huge factor. If he would have left (to follow Hammontree), I probably would have left, too.”

Before joining Hammontree at Maryville in 1993, Ellis, a college teammate of Hammontree’s at Carson-Newman, had himself been a head coach himself in Calhoun, Ga.

“When I got the job here (at Maryville),” Hammontree said, “he (Ellis) tried to hire me at Gordon Central.”

When Quarles’ first move as head coach was to add Clinton head coach Jim Gaylor as his defensive coordinator, the coaching triumvirate was complete. High school football in Tennessee would never be the same.

The Rebels won seven state crowns in the decade that was the 2000s, a numbing run that included a state-record 74-game winning streak. The Class of 2008 concluded their careers as Rebels without absorbing a single loss, finishing an unprecedented 60-0. In Quarles’ 12 seasons as coach, the Rebels have produced eight Mr. Football winners, with Maryville adding an eighth state title during his tenure just last season.

Two years ago, Quarles became the school’s all-time winningest coach, passing the legendary Wilson in a playoff win over Dobyns-Bennett.

“I never dreamed it would turn out the way it’s turned out,” Quarles said.

Wonder how D.B. is getting along these days?

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