BUFORD — For the first time in 21 years, Buford baseball is looking for a new head coach.
And while stepping away from the program was a tough decision for Tony Wolfe, the longtime coach is invigorated by the fact that he will get to help choose his successor.
Wolfe has accepted a position as Buford assistant athletic director -- he will also maintain his position in charge of Lady Wolves softball -- and the coach is relishing the chance to take a hand in all Wolves athletic programs.
"I'm excited by the opportunity, but it's bittersweet really," Wolfe said. "It will be really odd not to be on the baseball field next spring. I so love our baseball program and all that we've built there and the kids that have been involved. But I felt the time was right, really. It's time for new blood to come in and take it to an even higher level. It's not easy to be a two-sport coach, and the next coach will be 100 percent baseball. I think you're going to see this program go to new heights."
The Wolves have twice scaled the highest peaks in Wolfe's 21 seasons, winning state championships in 2011 and '15. Wolfe's 2016 team also finished as state runner-up. He also coach Buford to three more Final Fours, eight region titles and an overall record of 441-192.
Buford went 20-15 this past season, reaching the Class AAAAA Sweet 16, where the Wolves fell to current semifinalist Wayne County in three games. The bulk of that roster will return in 2018.
"Whoever comes in is going to take over a talented team. We had five sophomores and three juniors starting a lot of games," Wolfe said. "We were rebuilding a little bit after so many great and talented players graduated from last year. But two of our three starting pitchers this season were sophomores; we had two sophomores in the outfield and three juniors in the infield. We'll graduate nine seniors this season that were all contributors in their own way, but only two started. We also have some of the best facilities around, and I think it's going to be fun to watch and see what the new coach can do with the program."
Now Wolfe -- who began his coaching career with the Gainesville travelers in 1983 (he also played on the 1978 Gainesville High state championship team) before taking over the Buford program in 1996 -- will begin the process of understanding the athletic director's position.
"There's so much to learn, and who better to learn from than our amazing AD Dexter Wood," Wolfe said. "I'm going to learn from him and help take the load off him. And, at 57, the opportunity to have a lighter teaching load and to move up in the athletic department was too good to turn down. Hopefully the leadership I've learned in coaching will translate into the AD role, and I can help some of our coaches who may be going through something that I have already exprienced."
Wolfe will also maintain his duties as leader of an all-conquering softball program that has won 10 straight state championships -- in his 10 years as coach.
"The fall is not quite as busy as spring as far as the number of sports going on," Wolfe said. "Trying to be an AD and help supervise so many spring sports when you're on the field yourself is just not functional.
"I'm just really excited by this opportunity."