Burke’s Stephens returns to alma mater as one of 13 new coaches in Class 4A

Former McEachern head coach Franklin Stephens talks to his players during a time out late in the first half of their game at the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta during the Corky Kell Classic Saturday, August 24, 2019. PHOTO/Daniel Varnado

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Former McEachern head coach Franklin Stephens talks to his players during a time out late in the first half of their game at the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta during the Corky Kell Classic Saturday, August 24, 2019. PHOTO/Daniel Varnado

Class 4A

Number of hires: 13

Best hire: Franklin Stephens, Burke County

Hardest to replace: Eric Parker, Burke County

Best job: Griffin

Toughest job: Clarkston

Most interesting: Eric Parker, who won seven region titles and a state championship as Burke County’s coach since 2007, retired in January. His 208 victories ranked 10th among active GHSA coaches. Parker suffered a heart attack during an Oct. 31 game against Wayne County and was airlifted to a hospital. He recovered quickly but did not return to full-time coaching. His final team was 9-3 and reached the Class 4A second round. “With the health scare that I had in October, that expedited the matter,” Parker said. “I’m not sure that I wouldn’t have retired anyway, but I took that as a sign from the good Lord that it was time. We had a great run, and I had a lot of fun.” Burke County hired an alumnus, former McEachern coach Franklin Stephens, as Parker’s replacement. Stephens can become the second coach in GHSA history to win region titles at five schools. T. McFerrin holds the record with region titles at seven schools.

Region 1

*Hardaway hired Chattahoochee County coach Ryan McKenzie to replace Corey Thompson, who is now Buford’s wide receivers coach. McKenzie was 5-6 in one season at Chattahoochee County. McKenzie had been Bleckley County’s offensive coordinator and had coached at Sumter County, Central of Macon, Brunswick and alma mater Macon County. Hardaway was 8-13 in two seasons with Thompson.

*Shaw hired Carver of Columbus assistant head coach Johnny Garner to replace Blair Harrison, who remained as athletic director. Garner had been at Carver since 2017 and coached one season at another Columbus school, Northside. He’s a stepson of former coach Charlie Flowers, who led Shaw to a 2000 state title. Shaw was 4-7 last season and made the playoffs for the first time since 2015.

*Westover hired its assistant athletic director, principal and former head coach Octavia Jones to replace Adam Miller, who became head coach at Centennial. Jones was Westover’s coach from 2010 to 2017 and was 41-43 with a region title in 2013. Westover was 3-8 last season.

Region 2

*Griffin hired Sumter County coach Clifford Fedd to replace Rusty Easom, who is now Whitewater’s linebackers coach. Fedd’s Sumter team was 1-9. He’s best known for his five seasons at Dutchtown, where he won a region title in 2018. He was a longtime assistant at Brooks County. Griffin was 7-13 in Easom’s two seasons.

Region 3

*Burke County hired McEachern coach Franklin Stephens, an alumnus, to replace Eric Parker, who retired. Stephens has coached at four schools, leading each (Tucker, Lamar County, Ware County and McEachern) to multiple region titles. He led Tucker to Class 4A championships in 2008 and 2011. Stephens played at Burke County, graduating in 1991, then at Georgia Southern. Parker’s career record was 208-102. He won a state title at Burke in 2011.

Region 4

*Riverdale hired Stone Mountain coach Deuce Roberson to replace Rodney Hackney, who became head coach at Tri-Cities. Roberson was Savannah’s head coach in 2017 and has been on staffs at Fayette County (2012-14), Ola (2015), Lithia Springs (2016) and Mundy’s Mill (2018-20). Roberson’s Stone Mountain team was 4-6. Riverdale was 3-7 last season after winning region titles in 2020 and 2021.

Region 5

*Woodland of Stockbridge hired former Southwest (Macon) offensive coordinator Robert “Bo” Cummings to replace Julian Hicks, who is now an assistant principal at Paulding Middle. Cummings came to Woodland last season and coached basketball as an assistant. He’s a 21-year football assistant with stops at Southwest and alma mater Central in Macon, Dougherty and Baldwin. He’s been an offensive coordinator for 15 years and assistant head coach for 13. He’s a former running back and SIAC player of the year at Albany State. Woodland was 4-6 and 5-5 in Hicks’ two seasons.

Region 6

*Clarkston hired Cross Keys coach Jimmy Williams to replace Terrance Hughey, who has left the coaching profession but still teaches. Williams was at Cross Keys for a lone winless season. He coached for eight seasons in his native Mississippi at Rosa Fort, Canton and Hattiesburg before coming to Riverdale in 2019. Clarkston was 2-8 last season, matching its most victories since 2013.

*Stone Mountain promoted offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Greg Carter to replace Deuce Roberson, who took the Riverdale job. Carter was head coach at Stone Mountain Middle last season and joined the high school staff this spring ahead of Roberson’s departure. Carter, a Thomasville graduate, is a former Berkmar co-offensive coordinator. He was a prominent coach in the Tucker Youth League for five years. Stone Mountain was 4-6 last season against a non-region schedule.

*Southwest DeKalb hired South Gwinnett assistant Marion Bell to replace Damien Wimes, who became head coach at Redan. Bell was a head coach for 15 seasons in New Jersey, four of those at West Side and 11 at East Orange. His 2007 East Orange team won a state title. He came to Georgia in 2021 and did not coach for a season, planning to watch his son play, but joined South Gwinnett’s staff as the ninth-grade team’s offensive coordinator in 2022. Southwest DeKalb was 2-8 last season, its first non-winning season since 2015, leading to the ouster of Wimes, who had led the Panthers to region titles in 2018 and 2019.

Region 7

*Central of Carroll County hired Paulding County coach Umbrah Brown, an alumnus, to replace Darius Smiley, who is now Sandy Creek’s coach. Brown was 6-5 in one season at Paulding and was defensive coordinator there the two seasons prior. He has been on staffs at Hiram and New Manchester. Central was 8-4 last season and won its first playoff game since 2014.

Region 8

*Chestatee hired Habersham Central linebackers coach Stuart Cunningham to replace Shaun Conley, who retired. Cunningham, in his 35th season as a high school coach, was Habersham’s head coach from 2009 to 2012. He was on North Hall’s staff for eight years before returning to Habersham last season. Chestatee was 2-8 in 2022 and most recently had a winning season in 2013.

*Seckinger hired Apalachee coach Tony Lotti to replace Aaron Hill, who is now Grayson’s assistant head coach, offensive line coach and director of sports performance. Lotti was the Atlanta Falcons’ coach of the year in 2002 for his inspirational return from cancer. He has been a head coach for 11 seasons at Apalachee and West Hall, and his teams are 48-69. Seckinger was 0-7 against a non-region schedule in its inaugural season.

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