On Thursday night, Ralph Potter ‘81 coached his football team to a state championship, his fifth one as Blue Tornado Head Coach, in a thrilling 34-28 victory over Baylor in front of a massive, electric crowd.
On the following Wednesday afternoon, he shared with his coaches and players that he is stepping down as Head Coach and moving to defensive coordinator.
“Every year that I’ve coached, I’ve considered whether I’m able to make the sacrifices necessary to continue as the leader of our program.
Last spring, I decided that the time had come for me to step aside,” Potter says.
Potter didn’t want his decision to be a distraction to the team or for the focus to be on him, so the decision was carefully guarded until after the season.
Head of School Lee Burns announced to the team on Wednesday that McCallie alumnus and current offensive coordinator Joel Bradford ‘07 will be the Head Coach.
Says Burns, “Ralph Potter has built a program that reflects the values and ideals of McCallie. His teams are hard-working, disciplined, and committed to excellence. He uses football as a platform to build men of character, integrity, and service. His teams are united, spirited, and full of brotherhood. His wins and championships are a natural outgrowth of how he builds men and teams.”
Kenny Sholl, Executive Director of Athletics and Special Assistant to the Head of School, says this of Potter. “I’ve coached football with Ralph most of our adult lives. He demands excellence and brings out the best in his players. His work ethic and dedication is extraordinary.”
Under Potter, who coached at McCallie from 1997-2006 and 2012-2023, his teams had a record of 181-77. He is the winningest football coach in school history, surpassing the record of his father, the legendary and late Pete Potter, whose record for the Big Blue was 155-67 between 1973-1993. Ralph Potter’s overall head coaching record is 248-109.
“McCallie football is a high caliber, championship program with a culture of integrity, excellence, and brotherhood,” says Burns. “We are fortunate to carry on this legacy and continuity by promoting to the Head Coach Joel Bradford, our offensive coordinator since 2019 and himself a McCallie football player alumnus who became an All-American college football player. More than simply being an innovative play-caller, Coach Bradford is a man of deep faith and character and a natural leader.”
Potter continued, “I consider it a great blessing to pass the responsibility on to Coach Bradford. I am very fortunate to end my career by working for a man who I love and respect. With great satisfaction and pride, I have seen Joel grow into the man and leader to take our program into the future. All of my confidence is in him.”
Under Bradford as offensive coordinator, McCallie has enjoyed a prolific, multi-dimensional offense, averaging 36 points per game. Their style varies between spread-the-field, wide-open formations that go fast, to more rugged, pound-the-ball styles as well. It’s a style and tempo that excites players.
As a McCallie football player, Bradford played defensive back and special teams and was an all-state receiver. He helped lead the Big Blue to the state finals in 2006. He was a college All-American receiver at UTC, where he also played defensive back, as well as punted and kicked. Bradford earned his B.A. in Finance at UTC and his M.A. in Christian Ministry from Liberty University. Since coming to McCallie in 2012, he has taught Bible and helped coach soccer and golf, in addition to coaching football.
“I am excited and humbled to serve as McCallie’s next head football coach,” says Bradford. “McCallie has had a great impact on my life and has been a special place for my family. I am looking forward to building on the success of Coach Potter’s leadership, and I am grateful that he will remain as the defensive coordinator.”
Says Burns about the football staff, “We are fortunate to have a coaching staff of outstanding men who are wonderful role models for our student-athletes. They have extraordinary minds for the game of football, but even better are their hearts for inspiring young men. That legacy continues with the entire coaching staff as Coach Bradford moves to Head Coach and Coach Potter to Defensive Coordinator.”
“McCallie is a place where our student athletes understand that our brotherhood and our team-first attitude is key to our success on and off the field,” says Bradford. “We set high standards for them in the classroom, in the community, and as football players. I am excited to get started in this new role and to be a part of a special place with great staff and remarkable young men.”
Competing in one of the nation’s toughest football conferences, as well as playing other strong teams from around the country, the Blue Tornado has compiled a 54-9 record in the last five years, including four state championships. The Blue Tornado has been ranked by MaxPreps in the top 25 of all high school football teams in the United States.
“As we are in all sports and extracurricular activities, we are committed to excellence in our football program,” says Executive Athletic Director and Special Assistant to the Head of School Kenny Sholl. “We will continue to attract and enroll mission-fit, talented boys of good character who will benefit from the overall McCallie experience and education. We will continue to compete with honor and do things the McCallie way.”
Sholl continued, “Joel Bradford knows the McCallie way. He understands our mission and culture and embodies our values. He’s a great role model to our young men. The head coaching football position at McCallie is one of the country’s premier high school football jobs. While hundreds of high school and college coaches would have sought this job, we knew we had the right man already here.”