For Banks County football coach Philip Jones, success in 2011 came before the team’s opening kickoff.
Jones, who was beginning his first season as a head coach, was faced with the task of transitioning a program that had seen success in its final year under previous coach Blair Armstrong.
The team was coming off a 7-3 season, but no playoff appearance in 2010. Jones, who set the playoffs as a goal to begin the season, first had to assemble a staff and gain the trust of his players.
“There’s no doubt that’s one of the biggest tasks of a head coach,” Jones said. “The head coach’s job is to set the vision, the tone and give direction to the program. A lot of what happens after that can be credited to great play and strong coaching by my staff.
“Good coaches let their guys work and don’t try to micromanage.”
The resulting success was undeniable.
The Leopards reeled off seven wins in the regular season, including a 4-1 subregion record, enough to take home the subregion title and a berth in the Class AA playoffs for the first time since 2008 and only the second time since 1997.
And while the season may have ended a bit before Jones and his players would have liked (a first-round loss to Adairsville), the improvement of the program can only encourage them going forward.
“To win a subregion like that, and do it in our first year was exciting,” Jones said. “I think we’ve set up a good foundation for the future.”
For his efforts, Jones has been named The Times 2011 Football Coach of the Year.
Jones, who spent two years previously as the offensive coordinator at Ware County High, was slow to accept the praise for Banks County’s season. To him, most of the success came down to the players on the field.
“We have a group of guys that work well together and got their hands dirty,” Jones said of his team. “Guys jumped on board right away. We had some good returning players from a year ago and some great chemistry. That’s important.”
Senior running back Dean Ewing noted that, despite what the team returned on the field, it would not have been able to come together like it did without a strong effort from Jones.
“When we came in for spring practice, we hardly knew anybody on the coaching staff,” Ewing said. “But we got to know each other in and out of practice. Coach did a good job of learning about us and helping us learn about him, and it made us be able to come together a lot easier.”
Jones said that it was easy for each side to get to know each other because of the effort everyone put in during the offseason.
“Our kids rose to that challenge,” Jones said. “We had unbelievable attendance in the weight room. There wasn’t a magic moment, or anything, where everything kind of came together. It was just a process throughout the summer.”
Ewing said that for him, it was Jones’ knowledge and understanding of the high school athletes that made the process that much easier.
“He’s a guy that’s been where we are,” he said. “He knows the game at that level and knows what it’s like being in high school and playing a sport and all that.”
And while there was a transition to a new coaching staff, Jones said it was what he didn’t change that had a big impact for his team.
He knew he had a number of strong athletes returning, and that to have success, sometimes less is more.
“We just wanted to build on the good things (Armstrong) did before us,” Jones said. “Sometimes, the secret is there is no secret. There are no shortcuts to success.”
And now Jones must turn his focus to next season, a year in which Banks County will be competing in a new classification (Class AAA).
“It’s going to be a new challenge,” Jones said. “And we’ll have to meet that challenge, too. Our goal is to be a playoff team next year, and we think that’s something we can accomplish. We’re not going to shy away from those expectations.”