FLOWERY BRANCH — Flowery Branch football coach Chris Griffin is not taking the easy route.
The new Falcons coach is replacing Lee Shaw, who started the program in 2002 and led the team on a very successful 10-year run before moving on to become the coach and athletic director at Rabun County after the 2011 season.
Now Griffin, Shaw’s assistant coach throughout his time at Flowery Branch, is looking to make his own stamp on the program while maintaining some of Shaw’s core principles that led to so much success.
He’ll be doing so starting with a 2012 season that he said brings the toughest schedule the Falcons have ever come up against, starting with perennial power Northside-Warner Robins and ending with Hall County rival and 2011 Class AAA state semifinalist Gainesville.
Griffin spoke with The Times on Wednesday about the whirlwind experience that has been his first foray into head coaching.
Question: What do you plan to do similar to Coach Shaw, and what different?
Answer: I think early on, when I first got the job, there were a lot of things that I kept the same out of simplicity, things we’ve always done that have worked in the past and there’s no need to change it. But I have learned already that every team’s got its own identity, every team’s made up of different players than the year before and I learned real quick that its not necessarily what you’ve always done, but what works with that particular team, so I’ve had to make a few changes based on just different players. We’ve got a lot of the same guys back next year, so there are a lot of similarities, not necessarily because Coach Shaw did it or that’s what we did last year, but because it worked.
Q: Are you going to keep the same spread offense that Flowery Branch is known for?
A: We’ve got a lot of players back so we’re going to be doing a lot of the same things as last year. ... We’re going to do some things very similar to what we’ve always done, but we’ll have a few wrinkles in there that are new or tweaked, to kind of match the personnel.
Q: With a lot of returners, is the defense going to be something you rely on once again?
A: Being a defensive guy, I think that’s always in the forefront to make sure the defense is right, sound, doing what we’re supposed to over there. And we’re very fortunate to have a guy on defense, Felix Curry, who’s a very good defensive coordinator, well-rehearsed in that particular role, and has done a great job modifying it and tweaking it to fit him and our new personnel. We do have a lot of players returning. ... We’ve got seven or eight starters back from last year’s team. No matter who you are or what you do coaching, if you’ve got eight starters back, you feel like you’re ahead of the curve on that.
Q: Now this being your first head coaching job, is this what you expected it to be so far?
A: It’s been nothing like I thought it would be, and not in a bad or good way, just completely different. There’s just so many issues that as an assistant coach you never had to deal with: with parents, with money, with equipment, with scheduling, with paperwork. Coach Shaw did a great job. Being an assistant for him, he told us, “go coach football. Love those kids and be prepared to coach Friday night and practice,” but all that other stuff he took care of. Now I’m realizing that there’s so much more than just getting them lined up and running a play. So many things have to be done behind the scenes. So, is it different? Absolutely.
Q: Is it tough to take your hands off, and not just coach?
A: It is. If I could find one negative, it’s that I haven’t been able to coach football like I used to. Being there play after play, coaching the kids and scheming, trying to find a different way of doing things, I miss that, that was always enjoyable for me. But now, once again, it’s about the personalities of your players, dealing with the non-football aspects of it.
Q: What about playing Gainesville in the region?
A: Gainesville’s Week 10, the end of the year. We’ve got a lot to play before we get to Gainesville. It’s a game that of course everybody’s going to want to think about, play toward, and it would be great for both of us to be 9-0 at that point, that would be a good storybook ending, but realistically both of us have to play some really good football teams before that night, so that’s not a game that we’re really thinking about at this point in time.
Q: You’ve been playing tough opponents at the end of the season, Clarke Central the past two years and now Gainesville. Do you like that?
A: Some people like to play those games early or after an off week, but to me I’ve always enjoyed playing a big game at the end. To be able to look at that as not necessarily the end of the regular season or the region championship but Round 1 of the playoffs, because really we would hope that game would determine seeding for the playoffs. I think playing a big game like that is going to be fun — for both schools and communities.
Q: What was it like to have to deal with region realignment?
A: That was new, but I have nothing to compare it to. That was less than a week after I got the job, so I guess in my mind, that was normal. It was trying to find JV games, trying to find freshman games, getting schedules, and trying to work out the calendar. As far as realignment’s concerned, we lost a few teams, picked up Gainesville, so it wasn’t a big shake-up, as far as we’re concerned.
Q: You didn’t go easy on the non-region (schedule).
A: I didn’t really have a choice, all of the teams that I could find were really good teams. But then again, I’m glad that it worked out like it did, because us playing that caliber of teams, I think it’ll help us. We’re going to, right out of the gate, find out how good we are, or how bad we are. I see it as a blessing in disguise. But It’s a non-region schedule as hard as anybody’s. We’ve got five teams on our schedule that are legit, quality state contenders.