Jeff Herron’s return to the big time pays for Grayson

In the office of Grayson football coach Jeff Herron, one item stands out. Surrounded by photographs and used helmets, a coaching notebook sits by Herron’s computer. It is filled with instructions that guided his coaching staff in the months before his first season with the Rams.

Those who know Herron compliment his organizational habits, explaining he creates blueprints like this notebook every year and outlines practices and meetings down to the minute.

While his preparation is lauded, he learned this spring there’s only so much you can plan for.

Mickey Conn’s decision to leave Grayson for Clemson in March complicated the plans of Herron, who was set on Prince Avenue Christian being the final stop in a career featuring four state titles. After wrestling with an offer, the 56-year-old Herron left for Grayson to compete in Georgia’s highest classification, just as he did at Camden County.

The move put Herron back in the spotlight, as he’s again at the helm of one of Georgia’s best programs and is now preparing for a quarterfinals matchup with Colquitt County.

“I took that (Prince Avenue Christian) job thinking I’m going to go there, and then I’ll ride off into the sunset,” Herron said. “When this one came open, I thought instead of riding off into the sunset, why don’t I jump on that bull and hang on for eight more seconds?”

Closed door, open mind

Herron’s knack for organization was inspired by Jimmy Dorsey. Dorsey added Herron to his Paulding County staff in 1983 after Herron’s failed stint as a Tennessee Tech graduate assistant. Herron followed Dorsey to McEachern in 1984 and was a regular in the Dorsey household, spending Sundays studying film with Dorsey.

Herron put the lessons to work in 1989 when he became a head coach. He bounced around three schools over seven years before landing at Oconee County. Herron’s Warriors broke through in his third season by winning the Class AAA state championship in 1999.

“We were in a privileged position,” said Chris Reese, a linebacker at Oconee County. “You knew that Monday through Thursday we were going to do whatever to prepare for Friday night, then heaven help that team that rolled out against us.”

Herron left for Camden County in 2000 and realized during the interview process that the school had the ingredients for a powerhouse: demographics, tradition and a supportive community.

Herron’s tenure brought 154 victories, 12 consecutive region championships and three state titles. It also cultivated one of the state’s most impressive coaching trees.

Herron has had 28 assistants become head coaches, 13 of which coached at Camden County at some point. Franklin Stephens and Terry Crowder have won state titles as head coaches, while others such as Xarvia Smith and Derek Chastain were assistants at programs that won it all.

The toughest part for many wasn’t learning Herron’s ways; it’s replicating their effectiveness.

“A lot of the stuff I do was a credit to him,” said former Camden County running backs coach Jason Tone, now Worth County’s head coach. “Has it been as successful? No, because Jeff Herron is the magic man. He’s got the Midas touch. Everything he touches turns to gold.”

Herron decided in 2013 to leave for Prince Avenue Christian. The Wolverines stayed in the Class A title hunt in Herron’s three seasons, with his last team being his best. The team went 10-0 in the regular season but lost in the semifinals.

In March, Grayson athletic director Brian DeBerry called to gauge Herron’s interest. The two met days later, but Herron was happy where he was.

Still, the opportunity weighed on Herron. It did even more after a conversation with another coach and his wife, a Clarke County administrator. The coach’s wife said she never saw Herron being at Prince Avenue Christian, explaining he seemed at his best with needier kids.

Herron told himself to listen if DeBerry called again. A few days later, DeBerry reached out.

Not long after, Herron was back on the bull.

Pursuing greatness

A bull ride doesn’t sound so hard in theory. Once you’re on the bull and the gate flies open, it’s a different story.

“I didn’t know if I was going to live through this spring,” Herron said. “I was teaching coach Conn’s classes. It was spring recruiting, so there’d be 40 college coaches here a day. I was trying to plan practice, get to know kids, teach, get to know the coaches and then go to practice.”

Herron’s Rams began this season with a 26-7 loss to IMG Academy, but responded with nine victories. Nothing changed once playoffs began, as Grayson dominated Mountain View 56-7 in the first round then dismantled Woodstock 59-21.

No matter this season’s outcome, Herron said it’s a thrill to be back in the biggest leagues.

“I like the competitiveness of it,” Herron said. “Friday nights at Prince were great, but football was one of several things we did. It’s a big deal here. You always want to be some place where people understand that it is a big deal.”

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