By Gabriel Stovall
McDONOUGH, Ga. — “Eagle’s Landing High School cannot replace Joe Teknipp,” Eagle’s Landing principal Gabe Crerie said to about 400 people who gathered at the Eagle’s Landing football stadium Sunday night to pay homage to its fallen coach.
Normally journalism etiquette says it is improper to use a direct quote from a source as a lede sentence, unless special or unique situations apply.
Anybody who knew him would agree that both the words special and unique are fitting descriptors for coach Joe Teknipp.
The Eagle’s Landing football coach passed away early Saturday morning, a little more than a week after having surgery to remove a rare type of stomach cancer from his body. And although the coach knew the seriousness of his procedure, his sudden death still took many by surprise, amid reports that he was actually improving and that he could possibly come home as soon as Sunday or Monday.
It is often said that one who wants to know how effective a leader they are should turn around every now and then to see who’s following. If Sunday night’s candlelight vigil in Teknipp’s memory was any indication, the coach was quite the leader, both on and off the field.
“Again, Joe Teknipp is irreplaceable,” Crerie said after Sunday’s vigil. “As a head football coach and as a man, you couldn’t ask for better. He was about academics. He was about character. He cared about all of his football players and wanted to see them go on to do great things, more than just football.”
The soul-stirring service was highlighted by prayers from the Rev. Randal McNeill, pastor of Radiant Church in McDonough, spiritual singing by members of the Eagle’s Landing High School community and a challenge by McNeill to some of the members of the 2015 football team that Teknipp said prior to his surgery he had every intention of coaching this fall in a story where he first publicly talked of his battle with cancer.
“This is going to be a very unusual and different year for us, but it has the opportunity to be a great year,” said McNeill to the team he’s also spent the last three years serving as chaplain. “This whole community and this whole county will be watching us, and I believe you all have what it takes to be Teknipp Strong.”
#TeknippStrong has been the hashtag that has been gaining visibility over the last several days as more people have been paying respects to the eight-year Golden Eagles coach. Georgia Tech football coach Paul Johnson, who coaches Teknipp’s son Tyler, was one of those offering well wishes and condolences.
Perhaps one of Sunday evening’s most touching moments came when the current football players took the field for the first time since their coach’s demise — candles lit — to be joined by Teknipp’s wife Jennifer, son Tyler and daughter Caitlyn, along with scores of coaches, former players and team support staff.
As Caitlin Teknipp took the field, she could be seen sobbing while carrying sparklers in memory of her dad.
“Joe died on the 4th of July which was also Caitlyn’s 19th birthday,” Jennifer Teknipp said as she addressed the crowd. “He always made sure she had sparklers and fireworks for her birthday. I know it’s hard, Caitlin, but I really want you to light them.”
After the closing prayer, the crowd slowly dispersed with people exchanging hugs, smiles and some consoling in the midst of tears and sobs — many of them coming from past teammates and parents who hadn’t seen each other since playing days.
It all left Crerie reminiscing about Joe Teknipp’s tenure at the school from the first day to the last. McCreary said he helped put together a football coach search committee that was responsible for Teknipp’s hire almost eight years ago.
He said that everything he heard about Teknipp then only manifested itself over time.
“He was one of those people who, out of all the people I’d hired, I’d gotten various sources that I didn’t ask telling me how great of a man this is,” Crerie said. “From that standpoint it was a no-brainer because you had so many people telling me, ‘You need to get this person in your building.'”
And even up to one of his last moments spent with the coach, Crerie said Teknipp’s strength, resolve and tenacity showed up.
“He was just in my office two weeks ago, and despite what he was dealing with, he was making me and all of us feel better,” he said. “He was facing fourth down and long, and he made us feel like he had it. Joe’s the type of person you want to emulate. He taught me a lot of lessons that I hope I can help emulate and carry on throughout my leadership at this school.”
Local memorial services for coach Joe Teknipp will be held Tuesday July 7 at 6 p.m. at St. James the Apostle Catholic Church, located at 1000 Decatur Rd. in McDonough, Ga. The viewing and final funeral service will be held in his native Cleveland, Ohio. Thecrescentbuzz.com will provide further coverage on the impact Teknipp had on the Southern Crescent throughout the week.