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Christmas ends historic run as North Hall football coach

Trojans leader returning to Virginia after 13 seasons in Hall County

POSTED: January 22, 2014 12:37 a.m.
Jared Putnam/The Times

North Hall football coach Bob Christmas speaks to the team during a practice last season on the Trojans' campus.

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Bob Christmas is saying goodbye to North Hall and returning to a place where he won a pair of state championships in the 1990s.

After 13 seasons as the Trojans’ head coach, Christmas announced on Tuesday his retirement from the Hall County School District, effective at the end of the current academic school year.

Christmas is leaving to take over the coaching duties at Jefferson Forest High School in Lynchburg, Va., a place where he won back-to-back state titles from 1992-93, and where several of his children and grandchildren currently live.

“It was a very, very tough and emotional today,” Christmas said. “I’ve been here for 13 years and I honestly say it’s probably been the most enjoyable 13 years in my 38 years coaching. I love this community; they’ve been wonderful to my family.

“I can’t think of coaching in a better place than this North Hall community.”

Dave Bishop, a longtime assistant under Christmas and the Trojans’ offensive coordinator, has been named North Hall’s interim coach, according to Principal Joe Gheesling. A search for a full-time coach is underway and several candidates have already expressed interest.

“We’re going to look at it very closely,” Gheesling said. “We have some people on the staff who have expressed interest in it and so it is one of those things where hiring a head football coach is very important.

“This is one of the most important hires of my career.”

Christmas was named the coach at North Hall prior to the 2001 season, after spending four seasons as the head coach at Bainbridge High. He took over a Trojan program that went winless in 2000.

After a 1-9 record in his first season, Christmas built North Hall into an area power, while becoming the school’s all-time leader in wins.

Christmas has compiled 247 career wins, including a 106-47 record as the Trojans’ coach. He led North Hall to nine playoff appearances, four region championships (2004, 2006, 2007, 2012), and a pair of state semifinal appearances (2007, 2012).

“You can go back to like 1956, through the high school association’s archives, and North Hall is arguably the worst football program in the state until (Christmas) got there in the 2000’s,” Gheesling said.

Building programs, like he did most recently at North Hall and before at Jefferson Forest, is something that still excites Christmas. Even with 38 years of coaching under his belt, he’s ready to do it again.

Despite leading Jefferson Forest to three straight state title game appearances (1991-93), Christmas will be taking over a program that finished with a 4-6 record in 2013.

“I still love coaching,” Christmas said. “I know I have one more building project left. The program I’m going to has been down for several years, so it’s going to be a rebuilding deal. That’s kind of my sweet spot, that’s what I enjoy doing.”

Christmas said he informed North Hall’s football team Tuesday morning of his decision to step down as the Trojans coach and move back to Virginia, saying it was so quiet “you could’ve heard a pin drop.”

And while the decision to walk away from North Hall was tough, it was one he nearly made following the Trojans’ 11-3 record and appearance in the state semifinals in 2012.

But Hall’s son, Kevin, was extremely close with several seniors on the 2013 team and Christmas said he wanted to coach that senior class one final time.

“I had thought a little bit about retirement (in 2012), but (Kevin) was so close to the juniors and there were so many of them in my house, so I just didn’t feel like I could retire and leave them,” Christmas said.

“So I coached this year and was planning on coming back next year and just got a job offer out of state.”

When asked about his time at North Hall, Christmas said he has few regrets, although he wishes he could have delivered a state championship to the Trojans.

They came close twice, and felt like they had a real chance in 2012.

“We thought last year (2012) and then again this year, that maybe we could make a run,” Christmas said. “And then last year, when we upset Peach County at home in the quarterfinals, we had a coin toss with St. Pius X, and if you look at our home playoff percentage, it is pretty phenomenal.

“I lost the coin toss and we ended up having to go to St. Pius X to play. Very close game in the first half, felt like we could have won the game, and of course they ended up playing Buford in the state championship game. So that was one I wish I could play again.”


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