On Thursday, Dec. 6, the Enterprise City Schools Board of Education voted by majority to hire 3-time Florida state champion football coach Rick Darlington as the school’s new head football coach.
Enterprise superintendent Greg Faught said that Darlington’s reputation for building a team around character was a key factor in the hiring.
“He has a sparkling resume and comes very highly recommended by those that have known him for many years,” Faught said. “Coach Darlington has a tremendous reputation for building his football program around character development.
“He builds the kind of teams the entire community can be proud of by developing a strong sense of brotherhood, honor, humility, discipline, perseverance and faith among his players.”
Darlington comes to Enterprise after spending 22 years as a high school coach in Georgia and Florida, 16 of which was spent leading Apopka High School. He has a 206-69 record as a head coach and a 159-43 record with Apopka.
Apopka won the Class 6A state championship in 2001, 2012 and 2014 under Darlington and was state runner-up in 2013. Apopka also made the semifinals in 2007 and 2009.
Darlington’s single wing offense took the State of Florida by storm and set numerous state records, including points scored in a season (50.1 points-per-game), team rushing yards (6,000), and in three consecutive seasons had three 1,000 yard rushers in each season.
Enterprise board of education member Roderick Caldwell was the lone “no” in the vote, but he made his reasons for that vote clear.
“I’m the new kid on the block and I’m still processing the process here,” Caldwell said. “I’m having to trust people in ways I’ve never had to before. I do wish we could have taken things a little slower and given coaches that were still in the playoffs a shot at the job.
“This is no means a slap in the face of Coach Darlington – who is an awesome and great coach – or our great superintendent. I’m just afraid that we need to stick to the correct and proper process of filling the job.”
Darlington became so well-known for his single wing offense, and his success with it, that he began giving speeches at coach's conferences and helping other coaches implement the offense.
Board member Daniel Whitaker watched a video of one of those conferences that Darlington spoke at and it connected with him.
“When Mr. Faught talked to me about Mr. Darlington about the possibility of him being our coach and the interview process, I looked up some things and I found a 2016 coaching video where Mr. Darlington spoke to some youth coaches,” Whitaker said. “I’ve watched it about three or four times now and I keep watching it. It’s very inspirational to me.
“I played football and I am where I am right now because of my coaches and my father. In those videos you said, 'A coach takes people where they can’t go by themselves.’ It takes a special person to take teenage boys and get them to places that they can’t go themselves.”
Board member Dorothy Richardson watched those same videos and said that they connected with her as well.
“The first line (you said) captured my attention because you were dealing with the types of things that I treasure most, which is humbleness, love and caring,” Richardson said. “I’m old enough to not be fooled by what I hear on a video, but when I listened to those statements it clicked with me that you were really and truly speaking from your heart. I don’t know that much about football but I do know about life.”
In 2012, Darlington was named the Athlon Sports Florida Coach of the Year.
Darlington’s head coaching career began in 1996 when he coached Eustis High School to a 21-12 record between 1996 and 1998.
Darlington took over at Apopka in 1999 and led the team to its first state championship in school history in 2001. He posted a 37-11 record at Apopka between 1992 and 2002 when he departed to Georgia to lead the Valdosta High School football team.
At Valdosta, his teams went 26-14, won one region championship and made it to the Class AAAAA state championship in 2003 before ultimately falling in the title game. He was also named the Associated Press Georgia Coach of the Year in 2003.
Darlington returned to Apopka in 2006 where he remained until today.
“A couple of weeks ago I was coaching in Florida and wasn’t even thinking about Enterprise,” Darlington said. “It’s very humbling that you guys would choose me to be your coach but I do take that very seriously. This isn’t just a job but it’s a calling.
“The career is what you do and your calling is what you’re meant to do, and when you put it together that’s your purpose. I’m thankful to get to do that here.”
Darlington will replace former Enterprise coach David Faulkner after the Wildcats won just four games in the last two years following a 10-2 season in 2016.
During Faulkner’s six years at Enterprise, the Wildcats ran a spread offense, as opposed to the old-school style single wing offense Darlington is known for. Darlington has also run versions of the spread offense during his career, most notably during his time at Valdosta.
“I can’t say exactly what we’ll do but (the single wing) will certainly be a part of it,” Darlington said. “That will always be a part of what we do but we have to analyze what kind of personnel we have and we’ll build it from there. We want to build an offense that we can run year after year.”
Darlington praised the facilities at Enterprise and said that they were some of the best he’s seen.
“I’ve never seen better, honestly and I’ve seen a lot,” Darlington said. “It was very impressive. I’m very excited and a little bit nervous. It’s a new place and new people but I told my wife that’s what makes it the most exciting.”
Darlington said that coming to Enterprise isn’t a planned short stay, either.
“My dad worked until he was 87 years old and when he finally was forced to retire his health went south quick,” Darlington said. “I figured I have a good 30-35 years left in me and hopefully all of those will be right here in Enterprise.”