Caine Ballard held the toughest team meeting of his coaching career on Thursday afternoon.
After leading the Greeneville High School Greene Devils to four state championships the past 10 years, Ballard walked into the locker room, told his players he was resigning, walked out and closed the door behind him with red eyes full of tears.
“It’s been a tough week,” Ballard said. “Mr. Fraley (Greeneville’s principal) asked me to meet with the coaches early in the week, so we had to face that. Some of those guys had a good idea it was coming. But until it really happens, it don’t hurt near as bad.
“And then having to stand up in front of the players today, some awesome kids who have worked their butts off for you … it’s hard to do. Very, very hard to do. To say we’ve shed a lot of tears this week would be an understatement.”
Ballard says this isn’t the first time he’s considered stepping down as coach. But with Ballard’s son, Cade — a four-year starter at quarterback and two-time Mr. Football in Tennessee — graduating with 26 other seniors this year, the timing seems to be right.
Cade has signed to play football at Army and Caine wants to be able to go watch him play. And, too, Caine has three ladies in his life — wife, Joey, and twin daughters, Parker and Palmer — whom he’d like to spend more time with.
Seventh-graders at Greeneville Middle School, Parker is on the cheer squad, Palmer plays tennis and runs cross country, and both participate in track.
“It’s time to take up with my girls a little more, be at home a little more with family,” Ballard said.
“I don’t have any expectations (about the future). I just want to sit back and see what happens. If God lays something in my lap, I’ll certainly look at it. But I’m happy where I’m at. Our family is entrenched in this community and loves this community. It’s been good to us. By no means are we looking to go somewhere else.”
According to a release from Greeneville High School, receivers coach Adam Hansel will serve as interim coach until the position has been filled. Hansel has expressed he does not wish to be a candidate, according to the release.
The coaching position will be posted immediately with screenings and interviews beginning quickly, according to the release.
Under Ballard, the Greene Devils went 119-15, won their conference championship every year, went 31-6 in the playoffs and played in five state championships, winning titles in 2010, 2011, 2017 and 2018.
Ballard’s passion for football can be traced back to his days of growing up in Dayton, Tennessee, where he was a wing back on offense and a strong safety on defense for a successful Rhea County High School team.
“We played on really good successful teams led by great men when I was in high school. I think that’s what kind of fed me into this.”
Tim Hammontree coached Ballard at Rhea County and hired Ballard as an assistant coach at Maryville in the 1990s.
Ballard left Maryville in 1999. He spent nine of the next 10 years as an assistant football coach at Greeneville before being named coach in April of 2009.
“I had just some awesome men lead me,” Ballard said. “I think their influence on me, behind my father, who was my biggest influence, kind of drove me to do this.
Ballard said that what he’ll truly remember and cherish most isn’t the success on the gridiron but rather the relationships he’s built over the years with the Greeneville community.
“Through the relationships I’ve developed with players, coaches and our community throughout the years, I was able to discover my life’s purpose of being a football coach,” Ballard said in a release by the school. “Thank you to our administration, school board, and principals for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to lead the Greene Devil football program for so many years.”
Ballard will continue to teach finance and will continue to serve as assistant athletic director at Greeneville. His include scheduling and fundraising, and he’s working to finalize next season’s varsity and JV football schedules.
“Besides winning many games, Coach Ballard has also done a tremendous job in being a great mentor and leader to not only his players, but all GHS students and student-athletes,” Greeneville High School principal Patrick Fraley said in the school statement. “He has not only led the teams to championships, but the life lessons he has taught, along with his staff, will carry throughout their lives in all they do and become.
“Coach Ballard has been and will continue to be a valued member of the faculty at GHS as he backs away from the game that he has invested his time, heart, soul, and dedication to.”
In a released statement, Ballard added: I had no idea the impact a game called “football” would make on a man’s life. [...]Through the relationships I’ve developed with players, coaches and our community throughout the years I was able to discover my life’s purpose of being a football coach. Thank you to our administration, school board and principals for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to lead the Greene Devil Football Program for so many years,” he wrote.