Each time Abbeville faced a close third or fourth down during a home game, Abbeville football coach Jamie Nickles never looks at the football.
Instead, Nickles always looks toward the tall, red-haired man holding one of the orange markers. When their eyes meet, Nickles knows what type of decision he’ll have to make before the officials even measured.
“All you had to do was look at Red Dog,” Nickles said. “He’d give you the signal, that you got it or, uh oh, you got a decision to make on fourth down. I think he was about 100% in that regard.”
Scott Sutherland, a beloved person to Abbeville and a renowned referee and youth football coach, died Monday, Dec. 28. Sutherland, known as “Red Dog” to everyone in town, also manned the chains at Abbeville home games for 31 years.
“He was a legendary figure in the little town of Abbeville,” Nickles said.
George Abrams, Sutherland’s best friend, participated as an official alongside Sutherland and has officiated high school sports for almost 40 years. Abrams and Sutherland have spoken with each other on the phone regularly for several years. They last spoke Sunday, the day before Sutherland’s death.
“I’m going to miss him a lot, because we talked on the telephone two or three times a week together. I’m going to miss it, the fellowship with him.”
As an official, Sutherland commanded respect. He officiated baseball, softball and basketball and was named South Carolina Official of the Year in 2015-16 by the state House of Representatives.
Abrams remembers Sutherland as a referee who always had a good feel for the game and “common sense.” Best of all, Sutherland made it enjoyable to call games alongside him.
“Scott, he was not only a good umpire, he was a good person,” Abrams said.
Sutherland’s son, Davis Sutherland, played football for the Panthers the past four years. Davis will graduate in 2021, and his father got to run the chains for all of his son’s football games at Hite Stadium, the last being a memorable 28-10 win for Abbeville over Gray Collegiate in the Upper State championship.
One of Sutherland’s favorite quotes was, “Behind every fearless player is a fearless coach who refuses to let them be anything but the best they can be.” His dedication to influencing young people on the football field embodied the quote’s spirit.
Mike Bolden, the head football coach at Wright Middle School, coached with Sutherland. Bolden described Sutherland’s coaching style much in the same way Abrams discussed officiating with Sutherland.
Bolden said he won’t be able to replace Sutherland.
“You can get another coach, but the love he shows out there with the kids — as a head coach, when you got great assistant coaches like him, it doesn’t matter what you need him to do, he’s already on it,” Bolden said.
Bolden will miss Sutherland’s demeanor on the field, and he’ll also miss Sutherland’s friendship. Sutherland loved fishing, and he was known to leave a cooler full of fresh fish by Bolden’s front door.
“He’s like family for me,” Bolden said. “I never had to worry about fish. That’s his love. He loves fishing. I put one cooler on my porch, he takes that one and brings me a full cooler of fish.”