During the East Hall High football team’s spring practices, Scott Patrick had to stop himself from hovering over to the defensive line drills.
It was an old habit Patrick developed while overseeing the unit for the past 11 seasons. But after his abrupt ascension to head coach just days before spring sessions started, he found it a little difficult to immediately break that tendency.
“I had been a position coach for so long, so I naturally wanted to be over with those guys,” Patrick said with a chuckle. “But now I have to make sure I build relationships with not just them, but everybody on the team.”
That’s among the many new responsibilities Patrick has assumed since replacing Bryan Gray as the Vikings head coach in early May. Gray ended his 11-year tenure atop the football program April 11 to pursue an administrative role within the school.
In the days following his departure, the man who replaced him wasn’t sure he even wanted to continue coaching.
“I had always told myself that the day coach Gray stepped down would be the day I hung it up,” said Patrick, a special education teacher at East Hall Middle for the past 15 years. “I was fighting within myself about it for a little while.”
He brought his dilemma to principal Jeff Cooper, and following their meeting, Patrick acted on what he described as “a gut feeling” urging him to remain with the team. His intuition quickly strengthened into something else entirely — not long after Patrick approached Cooper about his doubts, he applied to be head coach.
“I thought about it a little more, and I just had a gut feeling about that, too,” the Hall County native said. “I was at peace with it.”
Once he got the job, there initially wasn’t much peace around the program.
Patrick informed his players of his hiring the Monday after it became official, and spring practice began that Wednesday. After throwing a plan together with his current coaches, he also had to start rebuilding a staff that saw several coaches leave in the wake of Gray’s resignation.
The Vikings — already seeking to replace a host of experienced and explosive players, most notably record-setting quarterback Austin Parker — canceled their spring scrimmage against Hampton in favor of an intersquad game.
“I think it was mostly hectic for all the other coaches,” Patrick said of the transition from Gray to him. “I knew what we had coming back, and I was ready to start (spring practice) in April. On offense, we taught three big concepts, and we focused on a few big concepts on defense.
“But mostly we just focused on the fundamentals. Our spring game was really exciting, and the kids seemed to have bought in.”
When it comes to organizing workouts and running the program, Patrick said he has drawn on the strong groundwork laid by Gray, who picked him as defensive line coach when he took over in 2007. Patrick spent the two years prior to that promotion coaching at East Hall Middle.
Of course, he has tweaked a few things to fit his coaching style, which he said combines strategies he learned from all the coaches he played for or coached under.
Patrick doesn’t feel much pressure heading into his first-ever season as a head coach, even while succeeding a long-standing head man like Gray who last year led the Vikings to their first playoff win since 1993 with a monumental upset of seventh-ranked Morgan County.
“I’ve focused on what’s best for the team and the kids, and I haven’t let anything else bother me,” he said.
East Hall is home for Patrick, after all.
He attended the school system through his ninth-grade year before his family relocated to Franklin County. In a profession where coaches usually jump from school to school, Patrick has remained with East Hall for a decade and a half.
School administrators rewarded his loyalty by raising him to head coach, though the move has come with a slew of new responsibilities. Yet Patrick said that when he stepped onto the field for the first day of spring practice, he felt just like he did in the last 11 years coaching for the Vikings.
There are, however, some big differences about his new position that he’s still getting used to.
“The hardest thing I’ve had to do is move away from the defensive line and be over everybody,” Patrick said. “Before, I could just play off what the plan for practice was. Now I’m the one planning it out and making sure it’s all going smoothly.”