While icon John McKissick approaches another coaching milestone in Summerville on Friday night, Erik Kimrey likely will make a little history himself when Hammond takes on Pinewood Prep.
Despite the loss of starting quarterback Jake Nidiffer to an injury in last week’s 29-28 loss to Augusta Christian, the Skyhawks are heavily favored to beat the 1-7 Panthers and present Kimrey, 33, with his 100th career win.
McKissick, the most successful football coach on any level in history, is hoping to bag his 599th win against winless Colleton County in a career that began in 1951.
The significance of Kimrey’s achievement will be the quickness of it. If the 100th win comes this week as expected, it will be in Kimrey’s ninth season at Hammond and in his 110th game. That would be good for an off-the-charts .909 career winning percentage.
No coach in South Carolina history has gotten to 100 wins faster, in fewer than 10 seasons or with a higher rate of success.
Not McKissick (598 career wins, 10 state championships), or Willie Varner (383 wins, 10 state titles) or Pinky Babb (336, five state championships) — the holy triumvirate of South Carolina high school coaching.
McKissick and Greenwood’s Babb attained the 100-win level in their 12th seasons and their 131st games. Babb did it in 1954, McKissick in 1963.
The only coach who comes close to the Kimrey standard is Clinton Hall of Famer Keith Richardson, who had his 100th win in his 10th season and 118th game (1978) with a .848 winning percentage at the time.
“Obviously, I do take some pride in (winning the 100th game) but it’s not something I’m dwelling on, especially during the season,” Kimrey said.
“I see it more as an accomplishment by the team and the coaching staff than as recognition for me personally. The kids made the commitment to become the best players they could be day by day, and the school and the community have been tremendous in support the program.”
Kimrey took over the program at the age of 25 with little coaching experience. After graduating from South Carolina, he was hired by Skip Holtz to be a graduate assistant at USC and coached tight ends.
“That may have been my first year as a real coach but, in a way, I’d been coaching football since I was a young kid,” Kimrey said.
“It’s true,” said Bill Kimrey, Erik’s father and a long time Midlands coach at Lower Richland and Dutch Fork. “Erik was on the sidelines taking it all in since he was five or six years old and he coached up the neighborhood kids for games in the front yard for years. He’s also the one who convinced me he could play quarterback and that we should run the no-back offense at Dutch Fork.”
Kimrey grew to dislike the long hours required of a college assistant, especially a graduate assistant.
“I was a newlywed and worked about 100 hours a week,” he said. “I hardly saw my wife during the season and I soon realized that this was not what I wanted to be doing at this point in my life.”
At the same time, former Carolina quarterback and good friend Phil Petty was the offensive coordinator at Hammond in 2003 under Kurt Wilson. When Wilson left, Petty was the logical successor until Kimrey came up with a novel plan that suited the needs of two young men looking for the right career path. It was decided on Christmas Day, 2003. Kimrey left USC and Petty replaced him on the Gamecocks staff. Kimrey applied for the Hammond job, and was hired.
Kimrey assembled a young staff, including former teammate Jeff Barnes and Chris Elliott, a law student at the time. Jamie Scott, another USC teammate, was already in place. The four have been together since the start.
“The four of us are, first of all, good friends, so we meshed quickly as a staff,” Kimrey said. “We are very different people, but there are no egos here and we’re all about doing the best possible job.”
Kimrey is not an in-your-face kind of coach.
“You don’t have to take a totalitarian approach to being a good coach,” he said. “I enjoy interacting with the kids, but it is also understood that there are expectations and standards that have to be met. Above all, we are honest with the players. Kids today are savvy; they can spot a self-serving sales pitch at the drop of a hat.”
Hammond won 17 games in Kimrey’s first two seasons, but suffered consecutive first-round playoff exits.
The breakthrough came in 2006 with a 13-0 run to the SCISA championship — the first of six consecutive independent school titles.
Since 2006, the Skyhawks stand at 87-5 and have not lost back-to-back games or had more than one loss in a season. They put together winning streaks of 16, 14, 15 and 19 games. No team in the nation has a longer current championship run.