New coaches in Class 7A: Changes come to high-profile programs
GHSF Daily is chronicling the many coaching changes in the offseason. We begin today with Class 7A.
Number of hires: 13
Best hire: Chip Walker, Newnan
Hardest to replace: Bob Sphire, North Gwinnett
Best job: Grayson
Toughest job: Campbell
Most interesting: Five plumb jobs opened in Gwinnett County this offseason. Lenny Gregory, the former Centennial coach who got the Collins Hill job, cited his “competitive nature” for returning to Gwinnett (he was on Grayson’s staff for the 2011 state title). “My belief is that Gwinnett County football is the best in the country,” he said. Gregory might be right. Gwinnett teams have won 11 state titles in the past 21 seasons in the highest class, including 2016, when Grayson took the crown. But it’s also interesting that all five openings came after head coaches with winning records opted out of Gwinnett. Those were Jeff Herron from Grayson to T.L. Hanna in South Carolina, Bob Sphire from North Gwinnett to Camden County, John Small from South Gwinnett to East Coweta, Mark Fleetwood from Peachtree Ridge to Huntsville in Alabama and Kevin Reach from Collins Hill to Monroe Area. Reach just wanted to be closer to his Walton County home, but he acknowledged the unpopular trend of high-profile transfers associated with Gwinnett in recent years. “Some of the things going on in Gwinnett did get a little nerve-racking,” Reach said. “People are looking at what program is hot and what is not. That’s not what I think high school football is about. I’m not saying that can’t happen in Monroe, but at the same time, a lot of teachers and other people there grew up in Monroe. I do like that small-town feel.”
*Camden County hired North Gwinnett head coach Bob Sphire to replace Welton Coffey, who remained as athletics director. Sphire won five region titles and averaged 10 wins in his 11 seasons at North Gwinnett, which existed for 45 years without a 10-win season or a region title before his arrival from Kentucky in 2006. Camden had two 10-win seasons under Coffey before bottoming out at 2-7 in 2016.
*Campbell hired Pope head coach Kyle Adkins to replace Ryan Brady, who was 5-25 in three seasons, 0-10 last year. Adkins’ teams at Pope were 0-10 and 3-7. A native of Americus, Adkins previously was at Shaw in Columbus, where he went 14-17 in three seasons. Brady is now a defensive line coach at Wheeler.
*East Coweta hired South Gwinnett head coach John Small to replace Steve Pardue, who retired from public schools and became head coach at LaGrange College. Small was 68-62 in his 12 seasons at South. His 2016 team, which finished 8-4, was a big turnaround from a 2-8 campaign and ended the Comets’ streak of losing seasons at three. East Coweta has been 8-3 each of the past three seasons and has reached the playoffs each year since 1997, the longest active streak in the highest class.
*Newnan hired Sandy Creek head coach Chip Walker to replace Mike McDonald, whose teams were 56-37 in eight seasons, including 3-7 in 2016. Under Walker, Sandy Creek was 127-26-1 in 12 seasons and won state titles in 2009, 2010 and 2012. McDonald is now defensive backs coach at Newnan’s arch-rival, East Coweta.
*Roswell hired Johns Creek head coach Matt Kemper to replace John Ford, who took the Buford job. Kemper, the first Roswell coach not promoted from the Roswell staff since 1954, led Johns Creek to an 8-3 finish and the school’s first region championship last season out of 7-AAAAAA. An Ohio native who played football at Miami of Ohio, Kemper came to Georgia in 2008 to become head coach at Pope and won a region title. Kemper also has been a head coach in Ohio and Florida. Roswell has finished 14-1 each of the past two seasons and was runner-up in the highest classification to Colquitt County in 2015 and Grayson in 2016.
*Walton promoted defensive line coach Daniel Brunner to replace Mo Dixon, who resigned in the spring and became defensive coordinator at Colquitt County. Brunner has been on Walton’s staff since 2014 and also served as special teams coordinator last season. He has been defensive coordinator at alma mater Roswell and Centennial.
*Milton hired Adam Clack from region rival West Forsyth to replace Howie DeCristofaro, who was let go despite a 39-28 mark over six seasons. Clack’s West Forsyth teams were 20-12 in three seasons and 7-4 each of the past two. He had been at West since its opening in 2007. West Forsyth beat Milton 31-6 last season. DeCristofaro is now the defensive coordinator at Etowah.
*West Forsyth hired Lanier offensive coordinator Shawn Cahill to replace Adam Clack, who took the Milton job. Cahill had been on Lanier’s staff since 2011. Lanier won region titles in 2014 and 2015. Cahill, a North Dakota native, has been an assistant coach at Duluth, Newton, Santa Margarita in California and Harvey in North Dakota. West Forsyth has finished 7-4 the past two seasons and made the playoffs six of the past seven.
*Collins Hill hired Centennial head coach Lenny Gregory to replace Kevin Reach, who took the Monroe Area job. Gregory was 5-5 and 8-3 in two seasons at Centennial. The 8-3 finish was the Fulton County school’s best season since 2003 (8-2). Gregory, a California native and former Brigham Young standout player, was on Grayson’s staff from 2008 through 2014, the last two seasons as defensive coordinator.
*North Gwinnett hired Mill Creek defensive coordinator and former Etowah head coach Bill Stewart to replace Bob Sphire, who took the Camden County job. Mill Creek was 33-6 and racked up 12 shutouts in Stewart’s time there. Stewart was Etowah’s head coach from 2006 to 2011 (41-26 record) and a Parkview defensive coordinator from 2003 to 2005. North Gwinnett has won five region titles in the past 10 years but went 5-5 and 6-5 the past two years.
*Peachtree Ridge hired Norcross assistant Reggie Stancil to replace Mark Fleetwood, who became head coach at Huntsville in Alabama. Stancil was an all-state football and baseball player at Colquitt County and went on to star at quarterback at Jacksonville State. Stancil has been at Norcross the past 11 years and was part of the 2012 and 2013 state-championship teams. He most recently worked as quarterbacks coach and also headed up recruiting as Norcross had 38 alumni in college football last season, seventh-most in the state. Peachtree Ridge was 49-39 the past six seasons under Fleetwood, including 6-6 in 2016.
*Grayson hired East Jackson head coach Christian Hunnicutt to replace Jeff Herron, who left in February for T.L. Hanna in Anderson, S.C. Hunnicutt’s East Jackson team was 4-6 after having won only three games total in the previous four seasons. Hunnicutt also has assisted at Peach County and Lowndes but is best known for his time at Buford, where he was the program’s offensive coordinator from 2004 to 2011. Herron, who replaced program starter Mickey Conn, led Grayson to a state title in his only season there.
*South Gwinnett hired Woodland (Stockbridge) head coach Steve Davenport to replace John Small, who took the East Coweta job. Davenport was 24-9 in three years at the Henry County school, which had finished 2-8 each of the three previous seasons. Davenport, a former star player at Southwest DeKalb and Georgia Tech, led Woodland to its first 10-win football season and playoff victories in 2016. Davenport also has been head coach at Savannah State (2011-12), Decatur (2003-04) and Redan (1998-01). South Gwinnett was 8-4 in 2016.
Coming Wednesday: Class 6A
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