When long-time football coach Greg Bryant retired from Cumberland County public schools a few years back, he thought he had hung up his whistle for good.

Four years later, he’s hanging up that whistle for good. Bryant stepped down as head coach at Fayetteville Christian this week. He will be succeeded by assistant coach Todd Coates.

“I’m definitely in the wind now,” Bryant said with a laugh. “If they need some help for the next week or so, they have it, but after that when the clock hits 3 o’clock, I’m heading home.”

Bryant’s coaching career has spanned 37 years dating back to his first gig as a junior high football coach at Anne Chestnut Middle School. Over the years, he has made stops at Seventy-First, E.E. Smith, Jack Britt and Westover, where he retired for the first time in 2014.

“These kids, some of their parents I’ve coached,” Bryant said.

At the time of his CCS retirement, Bryant was talked into a fateful meeting with then-Warriors head coach Bruce McClelland by longtime friend and former Gray’s Creek athletic director Doug Caudill. Bryant agreed to join McClelland’s staff in the unique role of co-head coach. When McClelland left for Terry Sanford, he handed the reins to Bryant.

From the beginning, low numbers plagued the Warriors program. Fayetteville Christian was winless in Bryant’s first season and winless this past season. In between, Bryant guided the Warriors to a pair of four-win campaigns, culminating in a 2016 playoff appearance.

Bryant said this summer’s poor volunteer workout attendance seemed to him to be the best time to transition to a new coach.

“With the low turnout, it’s probably going to be the best time for me to slide out,” Bryant said. “I’m not going to miss it as much as I thought I would. I have so many other things that I can do. I have a son down in Florida now and another graduating UNC Charlotte. You can’t make up for lost time, but you sure can try.”

Coates and his family recently moved back to Fayetteville upon his retirement from the military. He joined the Army in 2003 in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. This will be his first head coaching position.

“I think I was kind of on track for it, but 9/11 happened,” Coates said. “That’s when I said, ‘Hey, I don’t need to coach as much as I need to serve.' ”

As a player at Harrells Christian, Coates won consecutive state titles in 1989-90. He then went to Appalachian State where he played for Mountaineers coach Jerry Moore and stayed on as an undergraduate assistant.

He was an assistant at Warsaw Kenan High when he joined the Army, but he didn’t allow military service to entirely interrupt his coaching career. During a stop at Fort Bragg, Coates volunteered to coach quarterbacks at Pine Forest under Trojans head coach Dean Saffos.

Coates and his family moved to Hope Mills this past year following his retirement so his children could attend Fayetteville Christian. He offered his services to Bryant and FCS Head of School Tammi Peters as an assistant then was surprised when Bryant told him 2018 might be his last year as head coach.

“When I sat down with Coach Bryant and Ms. Peters, they were both happy I wanted to help out,” Coates said. “Then he said this might be his last year and he may go ahead and step aside. From that standpoint, it was a surprise. Then Ms. Peters asked if I was sincere in my interest in doing more. I’m still just wrapping my mind around all of it.”

Coates said the program’s low numbers are a bit of a wrinkle and that “all options” are on the table as to whether the school will field a varsity team in 2018.

“We’re going to look at some things and talk to some of the kids who haven’t played in the last year or so and those who are not out here for the summer workouts,” Coates said. “I’m hoping to have a meet-and-greet with all of the boys within the next couple weeks to start reinvigorating the program.”

As for the Xs and Os, Coates said his top priority is creating an easy-to-digest playbook that can be carried out from the middle school level up through the high school varsity.

“I just want to make sure I’m building a program that is simple enough and executable enough at all levels and bring everybody into the fold on that idea,” he said. “We’re two weeks away from starting the season and I’m introducing the kids to something that is different and new to what they’re used to. That’s the short-term. Long-term, I want to get and gain that commitment from the kids to keep them involved.”

The Warriors are scheduled to open their season Aug. 17 at East Columbus.