For three decades, coaching has been a big part of Donnie Branch’s life.
He began coaching high-school sports in 1984, and every year since then he has been coaching in some capacity.
Most of those years have been spent at LaGrange High.
When the 2014-2015 school year rolls around, though, Branch won’t be on the sidelines, or in a dugout.
Branch, who has been at LaGrange High since 1986, has retired from teaching and coaching.
“It’ll be a lot more weird that last week of July, first week of August when you have free planning for teachers, and I don’t have to go,” Branch said on Wednesday, the final day of school in Troup County. “That’ll be a lot different, no doubt about it. You kind of devote over half your life to teaching and coaching, and then you’re not doing it. And it was 28 years here.”
Branch said he is looking forward to spending time with his mother, especially since his father died recently.
“It really worked out well, with this, with my mom, with my dad, and being able to be a lot more flexible,” Branch said.
Branch added that his “dad was in on the decision.”
“We talked about it, and he was someone I sought advice from,” Branch said. “It’s worked out really well. It frees me up. I can go for three or four days and hang out with her, or just go up for the day.”
Branch leaves behind a winning legacy in two sports.
He was the head baseball coach for more than 20 years, and he led the Grangers to a state championship in 2004.
Branch was selected to the Georgia Dugout Club Hall of Fame in 2009.
Branch was on the football coaching staff since 1986, and he was a part of four state-championship teams.
When the Grangers won three state titles in four years beginning in 2001, Branch was the defensive coordinator under Steve Pardue.
Branch was also the head football coach from 2011 through 2013, and he led the Grangers to the second round of the state playoffs in 2012.
“In the 2000s in football, that was pretty special,” Branch said. “And then baseball, that program was one that with me and Jon Powell at the time and David Traylor and some other guys, we got a chance to build that one, and have a good 20-year something run of averaging over 20 wins a year, and winning a state championship and going to final fours, and make it one of the top programs in the state.
“Football had been good for a million years. I got to be there when was at its ultimate. Baseball, we got to do that one kind of from the ground up.”
While Branch won’t be coaching next year, he’ll still be a huge supporter of LaGrange High athletics.
“Being at LaGrange High, that’s kind of what I am,” Branch said. “But it isn’t like I’m not going to be around there. I’ll be in tight contact with the coaches, and the administrative staff, and those people. I’ll be at games, I’ll be at practice when I can. I’m not moving away. I’m a Granger. I’ll be their best supporter, and consultant, and shoulder to cry on, and whatever they need, because they need all of it.”
Branch isn’t closing the door on coaching on the future.
This fall, he’ll begin giving private lessons, and he’ll focus mostly on pitching.
“My plan is for the next year, I’m going to do the baseball lessons business, especially with pitchers” Branch said. “That’s kind of my love. I love working with pitchers, young and old. I still work with the guys who are playing with college. They come home and I meet up with them, the Drew Moodys, and the Jacob Boccuccis. I still get together with them. They’ll call me and say, come watch me throw. I did the same thing with Korey Noles and Josh Edmondson when they were in college. I love pitching. I love baseball, but I love pitching.”
Then when the 2015-2016 school year begins to loom, Branch will decide if he wants to get back into coaching.
“In a year, I’ll decide if my competitive juices are overwhelming me,” Branch said. “The fact that I don’t have a game that I’m involved in, is it killing me.”
Branch said one of the best parts about working at LaGrange High has been the relationship he formed with fellow coaches, and other staff members, including Pardue, who was the Grangers’ head coach from 1994 until 2009.
“Steve is one of my best friends in the world,” Branch said. “I talk to him if not once a day, then twice a day for 20-something years. That’s to this day.”
Branch also said he’s appreciative of all the support he’s received over the years from administrators, including principals Mickey McCoy, Steve Cole and Penny Johnson, and athletic directors Jack Rogers, Louis Myers, Jay Russell, Gary Peters and Jamie Schmitt.
Branch said they “all treated me and our staff with great professionalism, and were all great friends to me.”