‘It was the right time’: Darrell Sutherland calling it a career after more than two decades at Bartram Trail

Longtime coach was there since 2000; led Bears to 12-1 record this season

Bartram Trail coach Darrell Sutherland. (Justin Barney, News4Jax)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One of the longest-tenured high school football coaches in the area is calling it a career.

Bartram Trail head coach Darrell Sutherland, who has been at the program since the spring of 2000 and built it into one of the most consistent in the state, announced his resignation on Friday afternoon. Sutherland still plans to teach at Bartram, but he’s clocking out of football responsibilities to focus more on family, time with his wife, Mary, and eventually, some grandchildren.

“One thing I’m so thankful for is I’ve had the ultimate coach’s wife. She’s been an incredible blessing,” Sutherland said. “I tell young coaches that are getting into it, I say, ‘Hey, it is a couple’s ministry. Your wife’s got to be on board with it.’ And she’s been awesome. I’m just so thankful. That’s really the word that keeps coming to mind. Thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of this, and these young men let me be part of their lives.”

Sutherland was among the top area coaches in terms of staying power, trailing only Trinity Christian’s Verlon Dorminey, First Coast’s Marty Lee and Keystone Heights’ Chuck Dickinson. Lee is positioned for retirement. Dickinson retired last month.

And now Sutherland, one of the most well-respected coaches in the state, is hanging it up and putting arguably the most high profile job in the area on the market. Sutherland said the time was right for a change. Elijah, the youngest of his three children, was the last to graduate high school in 2021. Sutherland said that he debated on stepping away after the 2021 season but opted to come back for one final season as the state went to a Suburban-Metro split for the playoffs. He said that Bartram is in great hands with the staff and players set to return in 2023.

“It’s the right time. I’ve been blessed with a great situation and getting to start this program off and and see to where it is right now,” he said. “But I just know that that group of coaches that are here and the players that are here that this group is ready to take another step and I’m looking forward to being able to spend a little bit more time with my family ... it was the right time.”

Sutherland led the Bears to a 12-1 season this year, reaching the Region 1-4S finals before a 21-20 loss to Gainesville Buchholz. Sutherland is 187-119 all-time, with all but five of those wins coming at Bartram.

His teams missed the state playoffs three seasons (2008, 2014, ‘18) and reached the state semifinals four times. Bartram played for its lone championship in 2017, losing to Venice 37-24. Through it all, Sutherland has been the same type of coach, traits that have made him a leader across the area.

In back-to-back polls asking area coaches who the best in the area was, Sutherland was voted as the best each time by his peers.

Staying power for coaches at public school programs is becoming more rare by the year. In St. Johns County, St. Augustine High’s Joey Wiles retired in 2016 after 20 years and 198 wins with the Yellow Jackets, leaving Sutherland as the longest-serving coach in the county. That title now lies with Wiles’ replacement, Brian Braddock.

When Bartram Trail and Menendez opened in 2000, Sutherland and Dwaine Fisher were the men tasked to build those programs. The Falcons have had six coaches in that span. The Bears have had just Sutherland.

Athletic director Ben Windle said that he would have loved Sutherland to stay forever but that he was grateful for what he’s invested into the school, the program and the community.

“He’s been a bigger [impact] than just at the school,” Windle said. “He’s had such an impact on the community. He’s the standard by which we all sought to emulate. I’m just proud of the impact he’s had on the program and the community. There may not be another Darrell Sutherland. I’m incredibly excited for him get away from football, spend time with his wife, Mary, enjoy some more time with his kids.”

More than wins was Sutherland’s demeanor. Fellow coaches wrote in their remaks about Sutherland about how the Bartram program was the blueprint to follow for success in the aream largely due to the framework that Sutherland put in place. Never shy about his faith or ability to find good in the worst situations, Sutherland never ducked accountability or speaking on a topic, even if it was uncomfortable.

His Bartram program lost is first 17 games against rival St. Augustine. As uncomfortable as it was to answer those questions, Sutherland always addressed them in the same even-keeled demeanor. In 2007, a local group threatened legal action against Sutherland because he led postgame prayer on the field with his team. Instead of lawyering up or refusing to talk about it, Sutherland answered questions from multiple media outlets and never backed down in a very public and touchy situation. It ultimately settled down and wound up galvanizing the community.

Bartram became a program associated with high level quarterback play, with names like Kyle Parker, Nathan Peterman, PJ Blazejowski, Joey Gatewood, Riley Smith and Santino Marucci coming through the Bartram pipeline. When asked who was the best player or his favorite team to coach, Sutherland said that’s impossible for him to do. He ticks off one name after another of players who weren’t major college prospects as leaving just as big of an impression on the program.

“I have people all the time talking about, ‘Well, what’s made Bartram Trail so successful?’ And I truly feel like it’s because we’ve got a great administration. I’ve been blessed with an incredible coaching staff. I get way too much credit for a whole bunch of other people’s hard work,” he said. “And we have tremendous young men. And so just when I think back through the years of all the guys that I’ve had the honor of getting to coach and the relationships that I’ve been blessed with, this is a great place and it’s been an absolute honor to be here.”

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.