3. Cedar Grove’s John Adams is the only coach in his first year on the job, which is not a bad thing lately. In 2020, Soliday won in his first season and was the interim head coach the year prior, when Irwin also won. Buford’s Appling also won in his first season in 2019. So did Miguel Patrick, Adams’ predecessor, at Cedar Grove that year. North Gwinnett’s Bill Stewart in 2017 and Grayson’s Jeff Herron in 2016 were also new to their state-winning teams. Prior to that, it was relatively uncommon.
4. Buford’s Appling can become the first coach in GHSA history to win three titles in his first three seasons as a head coach. So can Irwin’s Soliday by tweaking the definition. Irwin’s 2019 title is rightly credited to the late Buddy Nobles, though Soliday was the interim coach while Nobles battled cancer. The only other coach to start with two titles, which Soliday can do officially this week, is Dublin’s Minton Williams (1959-60).
5. Three finals coaches are Georgia Southern graduates, including Class 4A adversaries Britt of Benedictine and Corey Joyner of Carver of Columbus, who were teammates in 1994. Britt was a freshman on the 1990 national championship team under Tim Stowers and a senior co-captain in 1994. Joyner, a non-lettering freshman in 1994, would go on to gain more than 3,000 all-purpose yards as a wide receiver and return man and was a senior on the Eagles’ 1998 national runner-up team under Paul Johnson. Milton coach Adam Clack also is an alumnus but did not play football past his days at Winder-Barrow.
6. Three were major Division I football players. Carver-Atlanta’s Myles was a running back at Purdue under Fred Akers. Warner Robins’ Westbrook was a cornerback on Florida’s 2000 SEC championship team under Steve Spurrier. Collins Hill’s Lenny Gregory was a three-time all-conference nose guard at Brigham Young under Lavell Edwards. He gave the CFL a try before spending 12 years in the lumber business. Gregory, in fact, didn’t coach football until after his lumber job brought him to Georgia.
7. Six coaches are not from Georgia. With their high school towns, they are Trinity’s Kenny Dallas (Memphis), Thomasville’s Zach Grage (Clayton, Ind.), Gregory (Santa Rosa, Calif.), Myles (New Orleans), Soliday (Sisterville, W.Va.) and Vandagriff (Knoxville, Tenn.).
8. Two are coaching at their alma maters. They are Freeman at Brooks County and Tucker Pruitt at Fitzgerald. Daniel Williams is coaching in his hometown, Fairburn, where he attended Creekside, now a rival. Hughes, in its first final, wasn’t around in Williams’ high school days.
9. Seven of the 16 coaches are African-American. Over the past five seasons, 20% of the GHSA’s football champions have had black head coaches. From 2000 to 2015, it was only 8%. From 1970 to 1999, it was 6%. The seven in this year’s finals are Freeman at Brooks County, Appling at Buford, Myles at Carver-Atlanta, Joyner at Carver-Columbus, Adams at Cedar Grove, Williams at Hughes and Westbrook at Warner Robins.
10. Six were promoted into their current roles, six were head coaches elsewhere, and four were coordinators at other schools. Those promoted were Clay Stephenson at Calhoun, Appling at Buford, Adams at Cedar Grove, Williams at Hughes, Soliday at Irwin County and Westbrook at Warner Robins. Those who were head coaches when hired were Freeman of Brooks County (at Brunswick), Myles of Carver-Atlanta (at Crim), Joyner of Carver-Columbus (from Dougherty), Gregory of Collins Hill (at Centennial), Clack of Milton (at West Forsyth) and Grage of Thomasville (at Gilmer). The hired coordinators, some with previous head-coaching experience, were Britt of Benedictine (offensive coordinator at Calvary Day), Pruitt of Fitzgerald (offensive coordinator at Valdosta), Vandagriff of Prince Avenue Christian (defensive coordinator at Woodward Academy) and Dallas of Trinity Christian (defensive coordinator at Eagle’s Landing Christian).
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