Each found what they wanted.
Sparks, who lifted the Wadley High football team to an unprecedented run of success, accepted the head football position at Randolph County three weeks ago.
Now, he’ll try to help rebuild a program that won a state championship in 2003, but has languished with back-to-back 3-7 seasons.
“It’s a challenge,” Sparks said of his reasons for leaving Wadley, where he coached for 15 years. “As a coach, you’re always looking for a challenge. That was a part of the thought process.”
In Sparks, Nix found an uber-successful coach who has already infused the program with enthusiasm in just a short amount of time. Spring practice opened Wednesday a week ago, leaving Sparks running double duty — teaching at Wadley and coaching at Randolph County.
After a slow start at Wadley, things got rolling around 2000 when Sparks and his Bulldogs put together an eight-year run that ranked it among the state’s best, regardless of classification. The Bulldogs posted 10 or more wins in seven of eight season from 2000-2007 and have made the playoffs every season since 1999 — including this past year when the team was only 4-6 in the regular season.
“We definitely did a lot of things,” Sparks said. “It’s a reflection on the kids we had. They accomplished a lot.”
The Bulldogs reached the semifinals three consecutive years from 2003-05, finishing just short of the championship game each time.
“He’s a winner,” Nix said. “He sets high expectations and goals for himself and for his kids.
“We’re looking for someone that can take Randolph County High back to a competitive level. He’s succeeded at rebuilding a program, he’s a good role model for kids, and he’s a hard worker.”
Sparks has coached for 35 years, with stops at White Plains and Maplesville before going to Wadley. Coaching his son is one reason for continuing to teach and coach, but not the only one. Sparks said he can’t see himself doing anything else.
“I love to fish, but I can’t see myself doing it every day,” he said. “I took up golf and gave it up. I’m going to stick with football.”
He takes over as athletics director and head football coach from Rick Coleman, who coached the previous two seasons.
Sparks said the chance to work with young people keeps him in the business.
“They make me feel young,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed working with young people. I love to see them grow and mature, and hopefully, I can teach them some things to make them productive citizens.
“I feel like Randolph County has great potential, and I want to see if I can improve that program and give those men a chance to have a lot of success.”
The enthusiasm has already kicked off with about 80 athletes out for the first few days of spring practice, Sparks said.
While he said he doesn’t foresee having that many stick around, the high numbers give him a better starting place.
“We found a huge number of hungry football players,” Sparks said. “They seem to be extremely excited. The first day of spring practice, the attitude was great, and the enthusiasm was unbelievable.”
Nix, who has coached during his 40-year teaching and administrative career, said his lone regret is that he’s retiring at the end of this school year and won’t be on hand to closely watch what he anticipates will be plenty of success by Sparks.
“I was a coach and played college sports,” Nix said. “It’s not like I don’t understand the athletic realm.”
Sparks has already made the move into the community at Wedowee, moving his family less than a week after his hiring was approved so his son, Ty — a rising freshman who has played on Wadley’s varsity the past two seasons — would be able to participate in spring practice at Randolph County.
For now, Sparks is maintaining his teaching load at Wadley, then driving to Randolph County in the afternoons. Taking inventory of the entire program, including the athletes, has been his priority.
The proximity of the schools means Sparks knows many people from Wedowee, which helps in the transition.
“I saw Randolph County play twice (this past year),” he said. “I know a lot of people there and a good many of the kids who are out for football.
“It makes it much easier for me, but also for the players. So many knew me. It’s better than getting into an unfamiliar situation.”
Sparks definitely will have a challenge on his hands. His schedule could be considered among the toughest in the state.
He plays in a region with defending Class 2A champion Reeltown, as well as traditionally strong schools Lineville, Woodland and Lanett.
Toss in familiar foes such as Talladega County Central and powerhouse Clay County and it goes up even more. To top it, the Tigers will finish the season by hosting Wadley.
“The potential made it attractive,” Sparks said. “I don’t know what our potential for wins and losses is, but I know the potential for building a good football team is good.”
That’s what Nix wanted to hear.