Kinston didn’t have to search far for a new head football coach , finding one just a couple of miles down the road.
Rudy Free, a veteran of 18 years as a coach, including three as a head coach at Ariton, and a nearby resident of the school, was hired by the Coffee School Board Thursday as the new Bulldog head coach and athletic director.
Free has spent the last four years as a defensive coordinator at Luverne under Scott Rials despite living in Coffee County.
“I am just excited,” Free said of becoming the Kinston head coach. “I am excited to get going. Ever since last summer, I have been looking to get closer (to home) as I actually live about two miles from the school. I have lived here about six years.
“I have been commuting about 45 miles back and forth to Luverne and wanted to get back closer. I am thankful that this came open and I was able to get it.”
Free becomes the fifth Kinston head coach in as many years, following Jason Wambles in his last year and one-year stints by Jonny Mitchell, Jon Cooper and George Kennedy, who resigned after last year’s 2-8 season.
“They have lacked stability the last couple of years and hopefully I can go provide some stability for the football program and the whole athletic department,” Free said.
Having family, including his wife and four boys (16-year-old twins, 13 and 9) as well as extended family in the area, is part of the reason for wanting to lay down roots at the school. The kids were attending school at Luverne for awhile, but have been going to Kinston since January and have been active in church in Kinston for several years.
“We wanted to be more involved in the community,” Free said of his immediate family. “They like living here. They didn’t want to move. It gives us a chance to be more involved in the community, school and going to games.”
The area is home to Free, who grew up about halfway between Elba and Kinston and attended Elba High School, located less than 20 minutes up Highway 189 from Kinston.
All of Free’s coaching career has been in the Wiregrass, starting with a five-year stint at Geneva from 2001-05. He was defensive coordinator at Elba for three years under Rials (2006-08) before becoming head coach at Ariton, where he guided the Purple Cats for three seasons, going 7-23.
After his stint at Ariton, he was defensive coordinator at Cottonwood for one year before returning to Geneva under Donnie Chesteen. He was offensive line coach there for a year before serving as defensive coordinator the last two years.
He rejoined Rials, this time at Luverne in 2016. This past season, he helped the Tigers to the state finals by leading a defensive unit that allowed only 11.6 points a game.
“One of the things I want to stress here is control what you can control,” Free said. “That is your attitude, being on time, being there every day, showing up to work, working hard in the class room, on the field and in the weight room and also being a good teammate. Usually when you do those things, good things happen.”
Free also has some other projects in mind.
“I want to build a program from the bottom to the top, starting with the recreation league to the junior high and out to the varsity,” Free said. “I want to bridge the gap between those programs. A lot of times you lose kids from the rec program to the JV and JV to the varsity. Hopefully, we can build those gaps.”
He said he hasn’t decided yet on coaching staff duties as well as what type of schemes he might use, preferring to learn the players and what they can and can’t do first then “try to tailor everything to what they can do.”
After 18 years of coaching, Free hopes the Kinston job is his final destination.
“This is a great school,” Free said. “I am hoping I can settle down and finish my time here.”