June 26, 2011
by Loran Smith
There was no big announcement last month when Ray Lamb cleaned out his desk at the Butts Mehre Building and drove the 18 miles to Commerce where he lives--the end of another round-trip ritual he had been making for almost two decades.
More often than not, he drove his pickup truck. A small-town alumnus throughout his life, he, like most high-school coaches, always drove pickups. Never know when you might have to haul some equipment somewhere or fetch a load of fertilizer for the football field. In addition to that, a pickup fit his personality, that of an easygoing, service-oriented, community servant who found virtue and emotional reward in coaching high-school football. Climbing in his pickup and finding a country music station always put Ray in his comfort zone.
He could ride from one end of the state to the other, enjoying time by himself and stopping along the way to visit coaching friends. More often than not, the coach and his wife would invite Ray to dinner--a home-cooked meal with the reminiscing and recall of yesteryear dominating the evening. If a coach were passing through Commerce, Ray and his wife, Linda, would make sure he knew there was an extra place for him at the table for dinner. There is a brotherhood among coaches, and the bonding is real. Genuine and everlasting.
When Ray called on his coaching friends across the state he was being neighborly, but in the process he engendered limitless goodwill for the University of Georgia. He always kept an ear to the ground, learning about a prospect not on anybody's radar. If a star player had academic problems or was a disciplinary risk, Ray often knew about it first and would pass it on to the Bulldog coaches.
After 32 years of head coaching at Warrenton, Commerce, and Monroe, Ray retired and became the director of high school relations for the Bulldogs, a position that the NCAA has gradually reduced to little more than a title. Although he enjoyed spending time in the office and watching afternoon practices, Ray finally concluded that he was not getting any younger and that he would rather give priority to seeing his grandkids compete in various sporting events in towns across the state.
"I like working for Coach (Mark) Richt so much that it was hard to give it up," Ray said, somewhat solemnly in his office a couple of weeks ago. "He is a fine football coach, and he treats kids right. I appreciate the man, but the NCAA has reduced the role I was in to virtually nothing. I hated to tell Coach Richt I wanted to retire, but my grandkids have priority in mine and Linda's lives more than ever."
Bobby, his oldest, is the head coach at Mercer, which is just starting up football. Hal, his second son, and Lynn Davis, his daughter, are entrenched in the school system in Calhoun, and Trey, Hal's son, is the quarterback at Tennessee Tech. Getting to see his grandkids play on the weekends and simultaneously working in the Bulldog games was getting to be a challenge.
In recent years, it was not uncommon for Linda and Ray to see Calhoun play on Friday night, Georgia Saturday afternoon, and Furman Saturday night. It was hard to see Trey and the Golden Eagles, but that worked out occasionally. "It is hard on us to get to as many games as we sometimes do," Ray smiled, "but we think it is worth it. We still get excited on Friday nights like we always did."
This is a man who, like most high school coaches, has given of himself to kids and their communities. In a lifetime on the athletic scene, you come in contact with the highest luminaries in sport--truly great players and great coaches. Not any of them, in the view here, has been more of a role model or an altruistic and selfless contributor to football, the game we love, than Ray Lamb. Ray never won a national championship, never had a shoe contract, never had a TV show, and never signed a multi-million dollar deal. All he did was give of himself to provide opportunity for kids to better themselves.