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By ARTHUR L. MACK
Faith Academy has hired former Opelika High football coach Erik Speakman to take over its program, replacing Jack French, who retired last month.
Speakman, 49, who spent 24 years with the Class 7A Bulldogs — the last six years as head coach — was fired after a 4-6 season in their first year after moving up from Class 6A. Speakman was 45-25 as the head coach, including a 9-4 mark in the playoffs, but he was fired after missing the playoffs the last two seasons.
“It was just a matter of when God closes one door, he’s opening another,” said Speakman, who will finish out the year at Opelika to be eligible to retire from the public school system. “Had things not changed (at Opelika), we wouldn’t have looked at coming here to Faith.”
Speakman started his coaching career under Terry Curtis at UMS-Wright in 1999. Now he’ll face his mentor and the state’s all-time winningest coach each season in 5A Region 1 play.
“It was a great experience for me, as it was my first real coaching job,” Speakman said. “I had a great year there before moving on to Opelika.”
Speakman succeeds French, 70, who announced his retirement in December after leading the Rams to six playoff berths. Faith was 55-20 in six seasons under French, who was 314-140 in his career.
Faith Academy athletic director Woodie Head said Speakman’s experience will help maintain the Rams’ recent success.
“He’s a strong Christian man and a strong disciplinarian and obviously he’s had a lot of experience,” Head said. “He’s only 49 years old and he’s got a lot of years left in him. We feel like he’s the right guy for our program.
“Coach French has turned our program around the last six years and he’s turned our program into a winning program and a playoff contender every year. We feel with coach Speakman’s experience at the Class 6A level and the Class 7A level, he’ll be able to carry on that tradition at Faith Academy.”
Speakman finds himself in a tough 5A Region 1 with UMS-Wright, Williamson, B.C. Rain and Vigor but said the challenges are nothing new.
“Class 7A was pretty tough and we were in a pretty good Class 6A region as well,” he said. “It’ll be an exciting new challenge.”
Speakman said he plans to come to Faith Academy sometime next week.
“We hope to meet everybody and put names to faces,” he said. “Soon as I get down there after school ends (at Opelika), we’ll hit the ground running.”