Former Atlanta Falcon excited to lead Pinecrest Academy
The new Paladins head coach was an integral part of the 1998 Falcons team that defeated the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game on the road, then lost to John Elway and the Denver Broncos in the 1998 Super Bowl in Miami.
“That Minnesota game was probably the greatest game in Falcons history. It was great,” said Mathis.
But the Falcons aren’t the only Atlanta team Mathis has impacted. He went to Redan High School, where he was a standout quarterback.
After high school, he played college ball at the University of New Mexico and was named to an All-American team in 1989. He finished his career at UNM catching 263 passes for 4,254 yards and 36 touchdowns.
But that was then. Pinecrest, a Class A private school in Cumming, is now.
Mathis is taking over a program that has been on the rise during the past few seasons. The Paladins won their third region title in 2015 and finished the season with a 10-2 record. Pinecrest was 8-4 last season and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. During the 2016 season, Pinecrest put 13 players on the all-region team, six on the all-county team and one on the all-state team.
And while this is Mathis’ first head coaching job, he draws on a well of experience after coaching at several different levels. He has been an assistant at Savannah State and coached in Shrine Bowl Games in 2008 and 2016, Gridiron King 7-on-7 National Tournaments, Nike Football Camps, and had brief stint at Lambert where his children are students.
Coach Mathis took time Tuesday to answer a few questions during a telephone interview:
Q. What led you to Pinecrest? What was the path to being a coach?
A. Well, you know, when I was playing, I was offered a job at the end of my career from Dan Reeves and from Bill Cowart, and I didn’t take it. Looking back, they saw something in me that I didn’t see and didn’t want to do. But then I got into personal training and the teaching part of it and I coached a couple of all-star games at the collegiate level and just got a bug for it. I think I learned a lot over the 13 years of my life and I think I can teach others and give others some of the things that I learned in my career.
Q. What do you provide at the high school level that other coaches might not think of?
A. Confidence. Confidence in everything that you do. I think that is pivotal in molding young men and good athletes. It is confidence. The thing is, we can yell and expect them to do certain things, but if we don’t instill confidence and teach then they can’t be successful. With today’s football game, everything is fast-paced and is all about “How many plays can I run?” And there is no teaching involved, and little coaching. So we have to, from what I do and the way I will approach this, we are going to take our time and teach, and they’ll learn. Not only learn how to play a game, but just we are going to be in their lives more. We won’t worry about winning state championships every year. I mean, yeah, that is the goal; you want to win those. But all these young me are not going to go off and play college or professional ball so they are going to be professionals in something. We have got to get them ready for that.
Q. What are the goals in the first year? After Year 1, what would you consider a success?
A. The goal for this year is for everyone to buy in; everyone to be on the same page, speaking the same language, walking the same way, talking the same way, the whole thing. I am not just talking about players, I am talking about parents and the community. Everything. You know, if everyone doesn’t buy in, you will lose. I have expectations of winning, sure, everyone wants to win. But there is a process of winning, and we have to teach that process. It is the way you walk, the way you talk, the way you greet people, the way you treat people, the way you dress, the way you speak, the way you address people. You know, first impressions last. We have to create an environment of perfection first before we can be what we want to be. Everything goes hand-in-hand. To be right, you have to live right. That is what we are trying to teach. You can play your hardest and be this person on the field, but once that clock strikes zero, you go back to being that young man that we want you to be.
Q. Tell me about your relationship with the fan base at Pinecrest?
A. Everything has been positive so far. But of course, there will be skeptics out there. Of course there is. And I am fine with that. I can handle that. Just playing where I have played and being in that kind of fire for 13 years, you hear it all. From fans, from media, from your own teammates. You hear it all. So you know there are skeptics out there; I have heard it all. I have been told my whole life, “You cannot, you cannot.” And I have proven them wrong. This is nothing different. But everyone is super excited and that is what makes me excited. There are kids coming out who have never been out before. There are kids who were on the fence about coming back this season who are coming back. So there is an excitement around Pinecrest right now. I just have to keep it and build on it where it lasts for a long time.
Q. What does the team look like?
A. You know, I see a lot of great-looking kids walking around. I have not had the opportunity to watch film yet. But all the kids that I have seen and met, they are good-looking kids. I am excited to see what they can do. You have to understand, they have been running the triple-option for years. So now, hopefully, they can take a deep breath and say, “Now I can show my athletic ability.” I have seen them. A couple of the guys throw the football decently and a couple of guys catch the football and they catch it very well. It is funny because you have a clean canvas and can paint you own portrait of what you expect things to be like. I am excited about that. It is not like I am inheriting and doing something that the last coach did and running his offense. I get the chance to take a bunch of kid who haven’t done this before and teach them something new. There are kids here who have never run anything but the triple-option and they’re excited about a change. You can see the smiles on their faces. They’re excited; I am excited, and we have a new mantra, “Let’s get it.” Whatever it is, let’s get it. We are going to do that with whatever it is. They have never seen a spread, a shotgun, a one-back situation or three or four receivers. They have never seen that. They’ve seen it on TV; they’ve seen it from opponents, but they’ve never had a chance to experience that. It will be more of a pro-style offense. We will put in a lot so that we are able to adjust to whatever the defense is doing.
Q. Outside of football, what keeps you busy?
A. Well I have teen-agers of my own. My daughter graduates this year and will be going off to college. I have a son that will be a sophomore next year. When I am away from Pinecrest, I will be attending to my family. Although I like to play golf, I don’t know how much golf I will get in. When I want to relax and get away, I go play golf. The one thing that I have learned about playing a lot of football on every level is to not have my coaches working so hard that they don’t have a life outside of football. That is what I am not going to do with this staff. I am not going to have them working where they cannot enjoy their family or their time.
Q. You put on a golf tournament benefitting ALS. Tell me about that?
A. Going on our fifth year, we put on a tournament benefitting ALS research. It will be at St. Marlo Country Club in September and we will have celebrities like Sterling Sharpe, Morten Andersen, Kevin Butler, just to name a few. We have done well with it. It is a great time and it is for a great cause.