Cedar Grove's head coach Jermaine Smith signals his players. (Phil Skinner/Special to AJC)
Photo: Rudy Isaza/Prep Zone: High School Sports blog
Photo: Rudy Isaza/Prep Zone: High School Sports blog

Backgrounds of head coaches in the state finals (AAA-A)

The 16 head coaches in the state finals have won 1,420 games, lost only 432, tied six, and have a winning percentage of .766 while in Georgia. They have won 18 state championships.

GHSF Daily is taking a closer look at each of the 16 coaches this week, concluding today with classes AAA through A. 

Class AAA 

*Chad Campbell, Peach County: Campbell trails only Marist's Alan Chadwick for best winning percentage among active Georgia coaches with at least 100 wins, and he's sixth in state history among coaches with 100 wins. (Chadwick's winning percentage leads Campbell's by a smidgeon - .84080 to .84076.) Campbell has been at Peach County for 26 years, the past 12 as head coach. Campbell is from Hawkinsville and was a baseball player at Abraham Baldwin. His brother, Lee, led Hawkinsville to state titles in 2003 and 2004 and is Peach's defensive coordinator. Those are the only brothers with state titles as head coaches in Georgia. Chad won a state title with Peach in 2009. Campbell was the 13th-fastest Georgia coach to 100 wins (in 120 games). His former assistants include current head coaches Mike Chastain of Warner Robins and Dean Fabrizio of Lee County, who also are in the finals. Campbell's career record is 132-25. 

*Jermaine Smith, Cedar Grove: A native of Darlington, S.C., Smith played quarterback at Tennessee State, where he won two conference titles, and in arena leagues. One of his coaches at Tennessee State was Ray Bonner, who encouraged Smith to join his staff at Cedar Grove as offensive coordinator in 2007. That was Smith's first full-time coaching job. Smith's offenses produced DeKalb County's all-time leading passer in yardage, Jonathan McCrary. Smith succeeded Bonner in 2013. The Saints have won three region titles since, plus their first state championship in 2016. Smith's record is 66-14-1. He is the only coach in DeKalb County Schools history to lead a program to four consecutive semifinals. Along with coaching football, Smith is the boys' track and field coach at Cedar Grove, which has won four straight state titles in that sport. 

Class AA 

*Tim Barron, Heard County: Barron has been a head coach in Georgia for 20 years, more than any other coach in the finals. He came to Heard County in 2002, a season after the Braves had gone 0-11. Barron's first team went 10-2. The west Georgia school had never won a region title until Barron arrived. It has won seven since. Barron's record is 151-79 as a head coach, 141-59 at Heard. He was 10-20 in three seasons at Alexander, where he spent eight seasons overall. (Coincidentally, Barron and Rockmart's Biff Parson were both 10-20 in their previous head-coaching jobs.) Barron was a high school quarterback at Pebblebrook High in Cobb County and walked on at West Georgia, where he was moved to linebacker, bulked up to 210 pounds and made the all-Gulf South Conference team as a senior. 

*Biff Parson, Rockmart: Parson is the son of a head coach, Ronnie Parson, and became a quarterback and northeast Georgia player of the year at Franklin County. He started two years at Liberty University and played briefly with the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Parson coached at Liberty and in NFL Europe before making high school stops at Hart County, Villa Rica, Dublin, Lamar County, Mary Persons and Rockmart, where he was the defensive coordinator in 2007 under Dan Duff. Parson had been Banks County's head coach for three seasons, compiling a 10-20 record, when he got the Rockmart job in 2016. He inherited a program that had gone 8-23 over the previous three seasons. In the three seasons since, the Yellow Jackets are 32-6 with their first two region titles since 1988. Rockmart is in the finals for the first time since 1957. 

Class A (Private) 

*Josh Alexander, Athens Academy: Athens Academy hired Alexander in 2015 from Archer, where he had been the offensive coordinator and was part of Archer's 2014 Class AAAAAA runner-up team. Alexander had been at the Gwinnett County school since it opened in 2009 but had lived in Athens since around 2000, when he became a student at the University of Georgia. Alexander also worked on the staffs at Parkview, Washington-Wilkes and Clarke Central. Alexander is 44-6 in three seasons at Athens Academy. The 2017 Spartans won their first region title since 2012, reached their first state semifinal since 2007 and advanced to their first championship game in history. They repeated as region champs this year. Alexander is a graduate of Clayton County's Morrow High, where he was an offensive and defensive lineman. 

*Jonathan Gess, Eagle's Landing Christian: Gess, a native of South Carolina, was a walk-on player and three-year starting center at The Citadel who went into the Air Force upon graduation and was stationed at Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins. While there, he began helping First Presbyterian Day's middle school and then high school team and eventually got a full-time job on the staff. ELCA hired him as head coach in 2007 at age 27. "The administration here was purposely looking for a young coach that would learn and grow on the job, so I got lucky to get it," Gess said. His 11-year record with the Chargers is 130-27. ELCA has won nine consecutive region titles and won Class A championships in 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2017. Only seven coaches in GHSA history have won more state titles than Gess. 

Class A (Public) 

*Jim Dickerson, Clinch County: Dickerson is a Clinch County graduate who has spent almost his entire life in Homerville. He played on the Panthers' first region-championship team as a nose guard in 1980 under coach Donald Tison. Dickerson then played two years at Georgia Southwestern and finished up at Valdosta State. He came back to Homerville as a student teacher and volunteer assistant on Tison's staff in 1988, when the Panthers won the first of their six Class A championships. He joined the staff full-time the next season, became defensive coordinator in 1994 under Cecil Barber and head coach in 2004. Dickerson's record is 151-44-1 with four state titles. He is one of five active coaches with at least three state championships in the GHSA. Only seven coaches in GHSA history have won more state titles than Dickerson. 

*Buddy Nobles, Irwin County: Nobles is a Jacksonville native in his 31st season on high-school football sidelines. He got the Irwin County job in 2014. His record is 54-12-2 with region championships and state-final appearances in 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018. Nobles has worked most of his career alongside Coffee's Robby Pruitt. Nobles was on Pruitt's staff at University Christian (1989-92) and Union County (1993-99) in Florida and Fitzgerald (2007-11) and Coffee (2012-13) in Georgia. Nobles was part of six Florida state-championship teams. He also was head coach at Union County (Fla.) from 2002 to 2006 and was a state runner-up in 2003. His overall record is 85-39-2. Nobles is trying to win his first state title as a head coach in his fifth appearance. 

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