Leading candidates in each classification for coach of the year

Marist coach Alan Chadwick watches his players as they warm up prior to Friday's game at Lovett. (John Amis/Special)

Marist coach Alan Chadwick watches his players as they warm up prior to Friday's game at Lovett. (John Amis/Special)

With two weeks remaining in the regular season, many coaches are doing jobs worthy of extra attention,. There's a long way to go, but here is a subjective class-by-class look at some of the leading coach-of-the-year candidates. Of these 40, thirteen are in their first seasons, and 24 have been on the job three seasons or fewer.


1. Randy McPherson, Lowndes: The Vikings were No. 1 a couple of years ago about this time and didn't finish strong, but this team plays the best defense since McPherson's Lowndes state championship teams of 2004, 2005 and 2007. The Miami Northwestern team that Lowndes shredded 48-21 is ranked No. 3 overall in Florida by MaxPreps. Lowndes is in the top 12 of six national polls.

2. Tino Ierulli, Shiloh: At 7-1, Shiloh has clinched its first winning season since 2003, and a comeback victory over South Gwinnett last week paved the road for the Generals' first playoff berth since '03, as well. Ierulli, in his first season, came from Palm Beach Central of Florida, where his teams won 33 games over five seasons. Shiloh had won only 11 in that time and was 2-8 last year.

3. Franklin Stephens, McEachern: Victories over Marietta and Hillgrove put the Indians in line for their first region title since 2016 under first-year coach Stephens. Remember that Marietta, ranked No. 1 in preseason with several top-10 national rankings, was supposed to be the team to beat. McEachern is 8-0. Stephens will have won region titles at four schools. Tucker, Lamar County and Ware County are the others. Fewer than 10 GHSA coaches in history have done that.

4. Phillip Ironside, Hillgrove: Few coaches do more with less in the highest class more regularly than Ironside, whose team would be undefeated were it not for an unfortunate officials call on the last play against McEachern. Ironside issued no public complaint, just role-modeled how to manage bad breaks and moved along. Hillgrove is 7-1 and ranked No. 6.

5. Justin Rogers, Colquitt County: Colquitt became the most pressure-filled job in the state with the firing of Rush Propst in the offseason. The community remains torn over the move, and any successor is expected to keep the dynasty rolling. Rogers' Packers have pinned the only losses on North Gwinnett, Warner Robins and Grayson and could do the same to Lowndes this week.


1. Clint Jenkins, Dacula: His 2018 team sneaked up on teams in the playoffs, beat Valdosta and reached the semifinals. This team won't. It's 8-0, on everyone's radar, but it's also improved, having avenged losses to Mill Creek and Mountain View. The Falcons are No. 1 in the AJC rankings for the first time in history. Jenkins was Dacula's defensive coordinator when promoted for the 2018 season.

2. Sean O'Sullivan, North Atlanta: The Warriors will make the playoffs for the first time since 1996 if they close out with victories over Chattahoochee (2-6, 1-5) and Centennial (0-8, 0-6). O'Sullivan had been Pope's defensive coordinator and also was on the staff of Westminster's team that won a state title in 2015. So was another member on this list. See Savannah Country Day below.

3. Jason Thomson, South Paulding: The Spartans' bid for a region title came crashing down last week in a loss to Mays, but South Paulding remains the most surprisingly good team in AAAAAA, per the computer Maxwell Ratings, which conclude the Spartans are 20 points better than expected in preseason. South Paulding had been no better than 2-8 each of the previous three seasons. Now it's 6-2. Thompson, hired last season, made his name as a defensive coordinator at North Gwinnett.

4. Matt Dickmann, Harrison: The Hoyas are 8-0 and can clinch a region title this week against Sequoyah (5-3, 4-2) and then potentially complete their first 10-0 regular season since 2002 against Creekview (6-2, 4-2), though both home games will be challenging.

5. Matt LeZotte, Richmond Hill: The Wildcats have clinched their first region title since 1996, when the program was still in Class AA. Lezotte, in his fifth season, came from Aquinas, where he achieved that school's first playoff win in history.


1. Bryant Appling, Buford: Not that anyone is crying for them, but the Wolves are coming off their most disappointing season in 13 years, a mere quarterfinal finish that precipitated a parting of ways with the head coach. Appling, the defensive coordinator and a 15-year Buford assistant, was promoted, but eight Power Five Conference signees graduated, and the starting quarterback who committed to Auburn transferred out. Appling has stilled the waters. Buford is 8-0 and ranked No. 1 with victories over two top-10 teams from a higher class (Milton, Archer).

2. (tie) Marquis Westbrook, Warner Robins: The Demons were coming off back-to-back state finals but lost record-breaking passer Dylan Fromm. With new quarterback Jalen Addie, Warner Robins is 8-1, ranked No. 4 and in the hunt again. Westbrook, the team's defensive coordinator, was thrust into the job when previous head coach Mike Chastain left unexpectedly for Jones County.

2. (tie) Mike Chastain, Jones County: Chastain took over a healthy program, but it's now on the verge of its first region title since 2001. The Greyhounds are 8-0 and ranked No. 3. (Assuming they win their regions, Jones County and Warner Robins couldn't meet until the state finals.)

4. Nathan Clark, South Effingham: The Mustangs are 6-3 in the first season under Clark. They were 4-28 over the previous three seasons. They are 20.5 points better than projected, the most of any AAAAA team, per Maxwell. Clark was the offensive coordinator for Lee County's 2017 and 2018 state champions and on staff for other titles at Peach County.

5. Rodney Hackney, Riverdale: The Raiders were 1-9 in 2017, winless in Region 4. They hired the veteran coach Hackney, on his sixth head-coaching stop, and go 7-4. Now, they are 7-1 overall, 4-0 in region play, in contention for their first region title since 1998. Riverdale is 20 points better than projected in preseason, according to Maxwell.

Class AAAA

1. Alan Chadwick, Marist: This is Chadwick's 35th season. Would a third state title, first since 2003, persuade him to go out on top? The War Eagles are 9-0 and ranked No. 1 with a game Friday against two-time defending AAAA champion Blessed Trinity for the Region 7 title.

2. John Hunt, Woodward Academy: Hunt led Woodward to four consecutive region titles until interrupted in 2018, but the War Eagles are about to clinch Region 4 again while shaving off more than 20 points allowed per game. Woodward is on track for its first 10-0 regular season since 2015.

3. Corey Joyner, Carver (Columbus): Joyner is the fourth Carver coach since Dell McGee left for the college ranks in 2013 and has the Tigers in line for their first region title since 2015. Carver was 3-7 before hiring Joyner from Dougherty in 2018.

4. Ben Hall, Flowery Branch: Hall lost his quarterback, South Alabama-committed senior Elijah Gainey, to a season-ending knee injury in preseason but has kept the Falcons in the top 10 with a 6-2 record in tough Region 7-AAAA.

5. Kevin Saunders, Gilmer: What's a good season for a team on a 30-game losing streak? Gilmer is 3-5 under first-year coach Kevin Saunders, and future wins over Ridgeland (4-4) and LaFayette (3-5) aren't out of the question. Saunders just arrived from Pebblebrook, where he broke a nine-year playoff drought.

Class AAA

1. Chad Campbell, Peach County: No program in history has suffered such heartbreaking defeats in consecutive state finals as Peach County, but the Trojans keep chopping wood. They are 7-1 and ranked No. 1. They even beat Lee County. Campbell is 139-27 in his 13 seasons.

2. Preston Poag, North Murray: The Mountaineers (7-1) are about to end Calhoun's state-record streak of 18 region titles. Poag, a former Dalton and N.C. State quarterback, is in his fourth season at North Murray. Older brother Jay Poag is on the list, too. See Christian Heritage.

3. Rick Tomberlin, Appling County: Tomberlin, who has 259 career victories, came out of retirement in 2018 to return to his alma mater. The Pirates are 7-1, ranked fifth and needing a victory over No. 3 Pierce County this week to claim their first region title since 2013.

4. Ryan Herring, Pierce County: Standing in Tomberlin's way are Herring and Pierce County (8-0). That's not unexpected, as Pierce is the defending champion, but the No. 3 ranking is the highest in school history. Herring, in his first season, came from Oxford, Ala., where he was 50-21 over six seasons.

5. James Lal, Stone Mountain: With games left against Cedar Grove and Westminster, this probably won't end well, but Stone Mountain was 4-46 over the previous five seasons. Now, the Pirates are 3-5 with competitive losses to Pace Academy (27-20) and Lovett (46-32), teams that stomped them in previous seasons. According to Maxwell, Stone Mountain is 20.4 points better than projected, the most of any established AAA school that hasn't been found guilty of recruiting this season, and ninth-most improved in all classes.

Class AA

1. Biff Parson, Rockmart: The 2018 state runner-up is 8-0 and ranked No. 1 in pursuit of its first state title since 1950. Parson, a Franklin County native who was head coach at Banks County when hired at Rockmart, is 40-7 in his four seasons.

2. Roger Holmes, Dublin: Holmes' record at Dublin is 155-58 with seven region championships and one state title. The current team is 8-0 and more dominant than any Irish squad in more than a decade.

3. Pete Wiggins, Callaway: The Cavaliers just clinched their seventh region title under Wiggins, the coach since 2005. His latest team is 8-1 and strongly contending for what would be the school's first state title.

4. Von Lassiter, Bleckley County: Lassiter had success with Jake Fromm's Houston County teams, then returned to his alma mater in 2017 and slowly built it back up. Bleckley is 6-2 after going 4-6 last season, and the Oct. 11 victory over Washington County was the Royals' first over a top-10 team from the same class since 2014.

5. Jeff Hunnicutt, Model: It doesn't happen overnight, but the Blue Devils (4-4) have more victories than in the past two seasons combined. That's under a first-year coach. Hunnicutt, who had been on Cartersville's staff, is the son of Lynn Hunnicutt, who won a state title at nearby Pepperell in 1990.

Class A (private)

1. Todd Winter, Holy Innocents': In Winter's third season, the Golden Bears are 8-0 and ranked No. 2. They are 42.5 points better than projected, the most of any Georgia team in any class. They defeated four-time defending champion Eagle's Landing Christian 42-41 on Sept. 20 to end ELCA's streaks of 59 victories in region games and 41 wins against Class A opponents. Winter, an Indiana native, came from Pinecrest Academy, where his teams were 35-19 in five seasons.

2. Josh Alexander, Athens Academy: Alexander this season became the seventh-fastest coach to reach 50 Georgia victories (50-7). He has taken the Spartans to consecutive state finals. Now, they are No. 1 in the rankings for the first time since 1979. Alexander was hired away from Archer, where he was the offensive coordinator on the 2014 state runner-up team.

3. Jay Poag, Christian Heritage: Poag, a Dalton native was promoted to head coach in 2016 to succeed younger brother Preston Poag (now at North Murray) and went 1-9 after graduation and transfers depleted the program. Now, the Lions are 7-1 and ranked No. 9 with victories over top-10 teams in three consecutive weeks (Trion, Bowdon, North Cobb Christian).

4. Jim Collis, Savannah Country Day: In Collis' first season, the Hornets are 8-0 for the first time since 1980 and can sweep its Class A city rivals Savannah Christian and Calvary Day for the first time since 1995 by beating Calvary this week. Then next week, SCD will play Johnson County for a region title that would be the Hornets' first since 1980. Collis came from Westminster, where he was the offensive coordinator on the 2015 Class AAA championship team.

5. Keith Hatcher, Mount de Sales: Hatcher, who got the head job in 2014, won a city title for his alma mater this season with victories over Tattnall Square, Stratford Academy and First Presbyterian. That's the first time that's happened since 1997. Mount de Sales is 8-0.

Class A (public)

1. Buddy Nobles, Irwin County: Nobles was stricken with a cancer diagnosis in preseason but has coached as best he can while undergoing treatments. He's been assisted by defensive coordinator Casey Soliday, who has been interim head coach in Nobles' absences. The school has built a wooden stand where Nobles donned headsets and watched and coached Friday night's victory over Wilcox County. Irwin, a four-time state runner-up under Nobles, is 7-0 and ranked No. 1 and favored to win its first state title since 1975.

2. Rob Stowe, Wilcox County: In Stowe's first season, Wilcox is 6-2 with losses to No. 1 Irwin County and No. 2 Clinch County and is ranked for the first time since 2013. Wilcox was 5-6 last season but is 17.1 points better than projected, according to Maxwell. Stowe, a native of Stephens County, is a 25-year coaching veteran who had been a head coach only once previously, at Gilmer, where his teams struggled. He came to Wilcox last season as defensive coordinator.

3. Michael Pollock, Lincoln County: Few coaches in any class entered this season on a hotter seat than Pollock, whose first season in Lincolnton resulted in a 4-6 finish, the first losing record for the program since 1972. Now, the Red Devils are 6-2 and ranked again with a pair of 10-7 losses to Abbeville, South Carolina's No. 1 Class AA team, and Aquinas. Lincoln has avenged 2018 losses to Washington-Wilkes, Warren County and Greene County.

4. Richard Fendley, Bowdon: Despite its current two-game losing streak, Bowdon is 22.9 points better than projected, according to Maxwell, and stands 6-2 after a 1-9 finish in 2018. This is Fendley's second season with the Red Devils.

5. Don Norton, Johnson County: Norton hasn't had a losing season in his 13 years in Wrightsville, but his teams also have missed the playoffs the past three. Now, the Trojans are ranked 10th with a 7-1 record, their only loss to undefeated Savannah Country Day, and they're getting a rematch for the Region 3-A title next week. It could be Johnson County's first region championship since 2010.

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