CONYERS -- Darren Wilkins called it divine intervention the first time he walked through the front door at Salem High School.
While interviewing to become Salem's next head boys basketball coach in 2004, the first person he met was a school counselor who counseled his daughter in middle school. It was then brought to Wilkins' attention that Athletic Director Jim McBrayer served as his wife's home room teacher in high school.
With his interview scheduled on a Monday, Wilkins was hired three days later.
Serving as the Seminoles' head basketball coach for eight years and the school's Athletic Director for the past seven, Wilkins plans to retire at the conclusion of the 2018-19 school year after 32 years in education.
"It wasn't a sudden decision," Wilkins said. "It's been something that I've pondered for about the last year. Counting my time at Georgia College, this has been 32 years and that's a long ride. Me and my wife have older parents and we want to spend time taking care of them. I want to spend more time with my wife an with being an AD, I'm away a lot. I look forward to that."
Wilkins began his coaching career at Georgia College where he served as both a graduate assistant and assistant women's basketball coach for three years. He then moved on to his first stint as a high school basketball coach at Sumpter High School before moving over to Americus High School.
All-in-all, Wilkins spent a combined 13 years coaching the two programs in the 90s and early 2000s before accepting the opening at Salem.
"I'm from Cartersville and I always wanted to get back into the metro Atlanta area," Wilkins said. "I saw the opening at Salem and probably looked at it for a week before I decided to apply. When I finally did apply and talked to coach McBrayer, he called me up for an interview and the process went relatively quick. I think he interviewed me on a Monday and offered me the job that following Thursday."
In his eight years as Salem's head boys coach, Wilkins helped lead the Seminoles to their first-ever playoffs appearance, a trip he still remembers quite vividly.
"We had the first team here to ever get into the state tournament and were the underdog," Wilkins said. "We had to go into the region tournament and win a play-in game. Then we had to turn around and play the No. 1 seed and we won that. Then we had to play Clark Central, who had been a nemesis to us and beat them. We had to run off three wins in three days and that was exciting because nobody expected us to get in. Coaching wise, that was the best part."
With McBrayer set to retire as Salem's AD at the conclusion of the 2011-12 school year, Wilkins never imagined it would be him filling that void.
"The position came open and truthfully, it never really crossed my mind," Wilkins said jokingly. "Principal Tonya Bloodworth came to me day and asked if I'd be interested since I had been here awhile. I mulled it over for a few days and decided to take the leap. It was kind of difficult because we had a really good team the last couple of years and were going to be really good again the next year. I was having to walk away from a pretty good group, but it was a good move. I've learned a lot."
Wilkins went from running practice and coaching one team to the head of Salem athletics. It was a change Wilkins had to get used to, he said.
"Probably the biggest thing was just the paperwork," Wilkins said. "Checking physicals, getting officials, paying security. Those types of things. Right along with that was when you're coaching a team, you have a group of athletes that are yours and that you're close with. As an Athletic Director, you see a lot of athletes, but you're not as close with them. That took a little getting used to."
Wilkins said he didn't hesitate to reach out to fellow ADs around the area, including Heritage's Chuck Landy.
"Chuck Landy was extremely helpful from Day 1," Wilkins said. "He called to congratulate me and was a great resource. Anytime I had a question, I could call him up and he would help me out. I had another friend of mine, Jack Williams, who was an AD and a lot of other coaching friends that were very helpful. Just bouncing ideas off of them."
In his seven-year tenure as Salem's AD, Wilkins is responsible for the hiring of current head football coach Jarrett Laws and head boys basketball coach Jarrod Davis, both of which have helped the Seminoles to a tremendous amount of success in recent years.
"That's one great thing about the job," Wilkins said. "Seeing how the choices that you make can influence the kids and the program. Coach Laws was a great hire, but once you check a person's background, you see that they are really good people and that they're somebody that you want your kids to play for. When I ask myself, 'would I want my daughter or son to play for that person?' If I can say yes, then that person can be a good hire."
On the basketball front, Wilkins tabbed Noah Harrell as his replacement before hiring Davis before the start of the 2015-16 season.
"Before Davis, it was coach Harrell and he went to state two out of his three years here," Wilkins said. "Coach Davis came after that and has made it to the playoffs in three of his four years. So overall, it's been seven out of the last nine years now. It's been great each coach continue what we've started. You can ask anyone now and they'll tell you that we're a solid basketball program."
While Wilkins won't be roaming the halls of Salem anymore, he said it won't stop him from continuing to pay the school visits when he can.
"I'll catch plenty of games," Wilkins said. "They'll probably get tired of me popping in, but I'll still be around. I'm a Seminole at heart now. A lot of the coaches and people that I've worked with are great people," Wilkins said. "I'll miss their friendships and hanging around them. We'll still be friends, but I just wont see them every day. Just interactions with the kids and different athletes."