Flowery Branch High School may have a new football coach, but little change is expected under the new leadership.
Longtime assistant Chris Griffin was promoted to head coach, the school announced on Monday, ending a short search that began last week when former coach Lee Shaw announced his resignation.
Shaw accepted a position as head coach and athletic director at his alma mater, Rabun County High.
Griffin, who served as defensive coordinator since the school opened in 2002, will take over a program that has seven consecutive state playoff appearances, including a spot in the 2008 Class AAA state championship.
He said on Monday that he did not expect much of a deviation from how things operated under Shaw. That means, he said, keeping the spread offense that has been so successful over the past few years.
“Coach Shaw is going to be a hard act to follow,” Griffin said. “He’s been my mentor and my friend, and I have tons of respect for him. It’s hard to say what I can add beyond him, but I’m sure as I get my feet wet, I’ll find some things I can change to better fit my style.
“For now, we’ve got lots of guys coming back on our staff. The offensive staff is remaining completely intact, and I think we’ll keep doing a lot of the same things we’ve done for years.”
The biggest difference under Griffin, oddly enough, would be the defense.
Griffin said the school will interview candidates to take over his vacated defensive coordinator position, and that, while he would maintain a hand in how it is run, he would allow his replacement to institute his own style.
“I think the biggest thing will probably be that we’ll have a new defensive coordinator,” Griffin said of the change. “I’m sure there will be a new flavor there, something a little different than myself. Whoever ends up in that position, I’m giving the freedom to put their own flavor on it.”
Also unchanging, Griffin noted, would be the team’s commitment to excellence both on and off the football field.
“I think the immediate expectation is that we’re going to be sound in our football and good students in the classroom,” he said. “I expect our kids to not just be mediocre students, but to be model citizens. I know that sounds cliché, but that’s the truth. That’s what I expect from them.
“As far as on the field, we’re going to try to win region championships. Nothing changes there. We’re going to compete in the region and, hopefully, the state.”
Griffin’s familiarity to the program and commitment to helping his athletes grow as individuals was a major factor in his selection to the position, athletic director Shannon Benton said.
“He’s been with us since we opened the school and has done a great job,” Benton said. “His character and work ethic are the kinds of things we expect from the leader of our program. Our program is based on hard work, the belief in one another and doing the right things. That’s how (Shaw) handled things, and I don’t expect a difference there.”
Along with the Flowery Branch administration, Benton interviewed a handful of current staff members as well as a few outside applicants. But when it came down to making a selection, they could not ignore Griffin’s tenure with the program.
By selecting Griffin and keeping the majority of the staff intact, Benton said, they were given the opportunity to transition to a new coach without experiencing a departure from the success they’ve built for years.
Shaw endorsed Griffin as his replacement last week and said he was very happy to see he got the job.
“There are a number of capable coaches on that staff,” Shaw said. “But you can’t overlook the fact that (Griffin) persevered through the hard years at this program. He was instrumental in its turnaround. Loyalty can’t be overlooked, and I feel like he can take it to the next level.”
Shaw added that he was confident Griffin would continue the tradition he helped build at the school.
“Some people don’t get it. He gets it,” Shaw said. “It’s not about ego. He’s a father figure to those kids. That’s what he brings to this program. I just think it’s the best hire in the state.”
One of Griffin’s first challenges will be helping the team transition into Class AAAAA in 2012. While the Falcons will face many of the same teams, there will be some new competition.
Griffin said that it was just another step for the Flowery Branch program.
“It’s another stepping stone in our journey,” he said. “But our expectations are that we will be very competitive.”