By Brad Locke
NEW ALBANY - Come May, Rickey Bates won’t have to hear another school bell ring. That’s just fine with him.
The New Albany head football coach and athletics director is retiring at the end of the school year, ending a 25-year career in Northeast Mississippi. He’s been at New Albany since 2000 and the Bulldogs’ head coach since 2002.
“After 40 years of school – high school and college, and 25 years of teaching – I don’t like hearing that bell ring every morning anymore,” said Bates, who turns 50 in December.
Not that Bates won’t miss football or the kids he’s coached, like he did in the 1980s when he briefly left the profession to sell insurance. But he wasn’t as emotional as he thought he’d be when telling his players of his decision Friday after their final game.
“I had an old ball coach once tell me, ‘You’ll know when it’s time,’” Bates said. “I know it’s time.”
Bates had a record of 30-24 at New Albany with two playoff appearances. The Bulldogs finished a disappointing 4-6 this fall, with injuries dashing their playoff hopes early on.
He was also a head coach at Falkner and Walnut.
“Probably one of the most patient men I’ve ever been around,” said assistant Bob Rainer, who’s been on Bates’ staff all five seasons. “He believed in second chances. That probably saved a lot of kids we would’ve lost.”
New Albany doesn’t have the strongest football tradition, and Bates has been the most successful coach there since Ben Jones in the 1980s.
“He’s really done a good job, setting a good foundation for whoever comes in to follow him,” assistant Ron Price said.
School principal Jay Foster said he will move quickly on finding a replacement for Bates, who plans on spending more time with his wife and playing a little golf, far away from school bells.
“If I want to go and do something,” he said, “I can do it without having to find a substitute.”