The announcement of Erik Speakman as the new head coach of the Opelika Bulldogs should be a surprise to no one. He is the perfect choice for a school that prides itself in consistency and tradition.
When Spence McCracken was hired to replace Doug Barfield in 1994, he added to the foundation that Barfield had laid. Coach “Crack” began putting together a football program that not only won consistently, the Bulldogs did it the right way. They were hard nosed, tough on defense and played with class and sportsmanship. Since McCracken’s first campaign in 1995, Opelika hasn’t had a losing season.
The Bulldogs were always intense, just like their head coach. McCracken hired young coaches with potential and trained them in the Bulldog way. When Coach McCracken retired after the 2008 season, the Bulldogs hired Brain Blackmon. Blackmon was the young offensive guru that McCracken had brought up as a pup, and was the right man to take over the program. After eight seasons and two trips to the state championship game, Blackmon suddenly resigned after the 2016 season and landed on Gus Malzahn’s Auburn staff.
McGill Toolen’s Caleb Ross was hired, coming off of two championship game appearances, one of them a victory. He was certainly a solid candidate and a quality coach. But the Bulldogs took a chance and veered off of the McCracken road. When Ross left to return to his alma mater at Prattville earlier in the week, one thing became clear. Opelika wanted to return to the family model that brought them such great success.
Erik Speakman was already serving as the Bulldog’s athletic director and long time defensive coordinator. He also learned his football from Spence McCracken. After working one year for Terry Curtis at UMS, Speakman was hired by Coach McCracken at Opelika High School. The 44 year old has spent 18 years at Opelika and when Blackmon left last year, applied for the head job. It had to be a tough turn of events for Speakman when he was not hired.
They say that good things come to those who wait, particularly those who wait with class. All of those character lessons that the McCracken tree had taught served him well. Speakman put his nose to the grindstone and went to work for the Bulldogs. When coaches teach “team”, sometime they need to remember that “team” refers to the coaches as well as the players. This coach understood that he worked and coached for Opelika High School and its football team.
He could have left to be the defensive coordinator or head coach at another school. But he didn’t.
This time around, Opelika knew what it needed and moved quickly to put the Bulldogs back on the old McCracken path.
“It’s going to be a tremendous honor, being a head coach at a top five program in the state,” he told AL.com. “It’s an honor just to coach at the same place Doug Barfield, Spence McCracken, Brian Blackmon and others have coached. I love it here. That’s a big reason I’ve never left. It’s just a special place.”
“I went through the interview process last year, and they decided to go outside the school,” he said. “With Caleb’s decision to go back to his home school, I think they were looking for some stability and a guy who has been here a long time.
“A lot of guys I coached earlier in my career now have kids going through middle school. It’s pretty cool when you can go to a daddy-daughter dance and you see former players with their daughters there. It makes you feel good.”
The Erik Speakman journey should be a great lesson for coaches always looking for a better job. Be patient and be great at the job you have now. Keep learning and preparing. Handle disappointments with class and dignity. Sometimes how you lose might be the first step to your greatest victory.
Erik and his wife Drew have five children and now have the job they always wanted. And chances are it will be a long time before the Opelika Bulldogs hire another head coach.
Good things come to those who wait……particularly those who wait with class.