Gess the biggest name among 16 new head coaches in Class 3A

December 8, 2017 - Atlanta, Ga: Former Eagle's Landing Christian head coach Jonathan Gess reacts to a touchdown in the first half during their game against Athens Academy in the Class A Private Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Friday, December 8, 2017, in Atlanta. PHOTO / JASON GETZ

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December 8, 2017 - Atlanta, Ga: Former Eagle's Landing Christian head coach Jonathan Gess reacts to a touchdown in the first half during their game against Athens Academy in the Class A Private Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Friday, December 8, 2017, in Atlanta. PHOTO / JASON GETZ

Class 3A

Number of hires: 16

Best hire: Jonathan Gess, Hebron Christian

Hardest to replace: Travis Noland, Oconee County

Best job: Crisp County

Toughest job: Groves

Most interesting: If it’s possible to put a football program on the map before coaching it, Jonathan Gess has done it. One of only five coaches in Georgia history to win six state titles, Gess took the Hebron Christian job in March, giving the Gwinnett County private school instant credibility as it makes the journey into Class 3A from the old Class A Private. Hebron has had good teams and even a more famous coach on a national scale, as former Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday guided the program from 2017 and 2019 and led it to a state quarterfinal finish. But Gess’s departure from Eagle’s Landing Christian, the most successful private-school football power in recent history, was big news. “This hire will forever change the trajectory of our football program,” Hebron Christian athletic director Taylor Davis said. “Coach Gess will not only transform this program to one of the top programs in the nation, but he is going to transform the lives of our young men.”

Region 1

*Carver of Columbus hired Chattahoochee County head coach Pierre Coffey to replace Corey Joyner, who is now Lee County’s linebackers and special-teams coach. Coffey was on Carver’s staff for four seasons before taking the Spencer job in 2015. Spencer’s 19-15 record under Coffey is the Columbus school’s best three-year run since it joined the GHSA in 1968. Coffey then led Chattahoochee County to 8-3 and 8-2 seasons. Carver was the Class 4A runner-up in 2021.

*Crisp County promoted offensive coordinator and former NFL player Lawrence Smith to replace Miguel Patrick, who joined Ohio State’s staff as a quality control assistant. Smith started St. Francis’ program in 2010, then was on Cedar Grove’s staff from 2012 through 2020 as offensive line coach, run game coordinator and ultimately offensive coordinator the final two seasons. A graduate of Atlanta’s Washington High, Lawrence played at Tennessee State and with the Buffalo Bills as an offensive lineman. Crisp County was 9-4 and reached the Class 3A quarterfinals in Patrick’s lone season.

*Thomasville promoted offensive coordinator Jonathan DeLay to replace Zach Grage, who became Lowndes’ head coach. DeLay joined Thomasville’s staff in 2017. DeLay started coaching as a student assistant at Georgia and was on staffs at Franklin County (2010-15) and Thomas County Central (2016). DeLay played at LaFayette under former Thomasville coach Tommy Welch, his father-in-law.

Region 2

*Pike County promoted offensive coordinator Bryan Holley to replace Brad Webber. Holley joined Pike’s staff in 2020 after four seasons as Whitewater’s coach (18-24 record). He was the offensive coordinator for Starr’s Mill’s state runner-up team in 2010. He coached 10 seasons in his native Kentucky before that. Pike County was 50-66 in 11 seasons under Webber, who has the most victories in school history. Webber is now Mary Persons’ linebackers and strength coach.

Region 3

*Groves promoted defensive coordinator Calvin Wells to replace James Latimore, who is now Liberty County’s linebackers coach. Wells is a former Jefferson County and Savannah State nose guard who has coached in Savannah his full career, including 10 seasons at Beach. He has been at Groves the past two seasons. Groves has lost 28 consecutive games excluding a forfeit victory in 2019.

*Liberty County promoted offensive coordinator Tony Glazer as interim coach to replace Kirk Warner, who passed away June 16 after a battle with cancer. Glazer, a Richmond Hill graduate, had two stints at Liberty covering 14 seasons and spent the 2018 season as McIntosh County’s head coach. He was Liberty’s defensive coordinator when the team had future NFL players Richard LeCounte and Raekwon McMillan but took over the offense when he returned to the school in 2019. Liberty County was 106-103 with three region titles in 20 seasons with Warner.

Region 4

*Cross Creek hired its 2020 offensive coordinator, Ezzard Horn, to replace Brian Lewis, who is now Burke County’s quarterbacks coach. Horn is a Florida native and former West Georgia football player who served 13 years in the Army before getting into coaching. He was an assistant on Cross Creek’s state-winning basketball teams the past two seasons and served as Cross Creek’s offensive coordinator in 2019 and 2020. He’s also a former middle school football head coach in Richmond County. Cross Creek has gone 8-42 since its most recent winning season. Horn got the job officially in late June, making him the GHSA’s newest head coach.

*Richmond Academy promoted offensive coordinator David Sammons to replace Lyle Burns, who is now Thomson’s defensive coordinator. Sammons has been at Richmond Academy since 2017. He was offensive coordinator at Augusta Christian the four years prior and coached briefly at Allen University. Sammons is a Harlem and Augusta University graduate. Burns’ record in five seasons was 28-26 with a 2020 region title, the school’s first since 1976.

Region 5

None

Region 6

*Adairsville promoted defensive coordinator Jon Cudd to replace Eric Bishop, who retired. Cudd has been on Adairsville’s staff since 2008. He also has coached in North Carolina and his native South Carolina. Adairsville has made the playoffs nine of the past 11 seasons and went 8-3 in 2021.

*Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe hired Avery County (N.C.) coach Mac Bryan to replace Bo Campbell, who is now offensive coordinator at Tennessee’s Notre Dame High. Bryan was 10-19 at Avery but 45-16 in five seasons at nearby Ooltewah, Tenn. He has coached 23 seasons on college staffs that include Southern Miss, Chattanooga and alma mater Appalachian State. Lakeview has won one game each of the past two seasons and was 19-51 overall under Campbell.

*Ridgeland hired Brevard (N.C.) head coach Craig Pritchett, an alumnus, to replace Kip Klein, who is now assistant principal at Summerville Middle and no longer coaching. Pritchett was on Ridgeland’s staff for 10 seasons before taking the Brevard job in 2015. He was 47-34 in seven seasons at Brevard, which was winless the season prior to his hiring. Ridgeland has won one game each of the past two seasons after a run of seven region titles in 12 seasons. Klein had been at Ridgeland for 24 seasons, the past three as head coach.

Region 7

*Lumpkin County hired Gainesville coach Heath Webb to replace Caleb Sorrells, who is now Hart County’s quarterbacks coach. Webb was on Lumpkin County’s staff in 2012. He’s best known as head coach at North Paulding (2008-11), Winder-Barrow (2014-17) and Gainesville (2018-21). His coaching record is 61-67. Lumpkin County has not had a winning season since 2011.

*White County hired Gainesville offensive coordinator Chad Bennett to replace Tim Cokely, who retired from coaching but is teaching at White County Middle School. Bennett was White County’s offensive coordinator from 2017 to 2020. He’s also coached at Flowery Branch and Rabun County. White County was 26-27 in Cokely’s five seasons, 4-7 in 2021.

Region 8

*Hart County promoted defensive coordinator Cory Dickerson to replace Rance Gillespie, who became head coach at Brookstone, now a GISA school. Dickerson came to Hart County with Gillespie in 2017. He’s also coached at West Hall, Sandy Creek, Gainesville, South Gwinnett and Jefferson. Hart was 28-27 in five seasons under Gillespie.

*Hebron Christian hired Eagle’s Landing Christian coach Jonathan Gess to replace Stan Luttrell, who joined Colquitt County’s staff as linebackers and strength-and-conditioning coach. Gess became ELCA’s coach in 2007 and won Class A championships in 2012 and 2015-19. The five consecutive state titles set a GHSA record. His overall coaching record is 160-39. Hebron Christian was 4-7 in 2021.

*Oconee County hired Flowery Branch coach Ben Hall to replace Travis Noland, who became head coach at Jefferson. Hall’s first head-coaching job coincidentally was at Jefferson, where his teams were 44-7 with two region titles from 2013 to 2016. He was the offensive coordinator on Jefferson’s 2012 state championship team. Hall came to Flowery Branch in 2017. His five-year record with the Falcons was 41-17. Oconee County under Noland was 74-27 and reached state finals in 2019 and 2020. The 2021 team was 10-2.

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