Michael Perry’s hiring as East Hall’s next head football coach was approved by the Hall County Board of Education on Monday. But a congratulatory message received from a former pupil — Gainesville’s “hometown hero” — made Perry’s return to Hall County feel all-the-more official.
Days prior to the board’s approval, Perry delivered the news to his close friend and the former record-setting Red Elephants quarterback Deshaun Watson, who went on to be a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist and now starts for the Houston Texans. Watson replied, expressing excitement in Perry returning to an area where both got their starts.
Perry, also a Gainesville High graduate and 11-year member of the Red Elephants coaching staff, spent the past two years as head coach at Centennial High in Roswell.
“I always saw (East Hall) as a diamond in the rough,” said Perry. “To have all this tradition, especially in basketball, they’ve had some great years in the past, in the 80s and 90s in football. I am gonna do everything I can to get East Hall football back where it needs to be.”
Perry’s contract will be effective Jan. 2 and he joins his wife, Elia, in the Hall County school system as a special education teacher.
“I’m really excited, No. 1 to be bringing him into our program and what he brings to it, with the experiences he’s had and the success he’s had at different stops,” East Hall principal Jeff Cooper said.
“He’s also a local person, we feel like, can dig into our community and get kids out there to play for us,” Cooper added. “(Based on) what he brings — what he stands for, his character and the traits that he has — I’m looking forward to working with him.”
Perry’s interest in the East Hall job wasn’t just a recent development. Perry said he had a kept watchful eye on that particular post since his time at Gainesville, and first reached out to Cooper for additional details back in 2016. The feeling was mutual according to Cooper, who had him as a desired candidate last year, but the timing was not right.
“This year, we made sure I reached out to (Perry) to get things going as quickly as we could at the end of this season,” Cooper added. “He’s been a target for us that we really wanted.”
At Centennial, Perry compiled a 15-8 record as head coach and guided the program to back-to-back region runner-up finishes.
In 2017, the Knights won their first playoff game in 15 seasons. Centennial’s offense also ranked No. 1 in the state, according to Perry, averaging 517 yards a game.
From the 2006-2015 season at Gainesville, Perry started as quarterbacks coach and eventually took over as offensive coordinator. Perry was on Bruce Miller’s Gainesville staff for the 2012 state championship, three state semifinal appearances and numerous region championships.
Perry voiced his sincere gratitude for GACA Hall of Fame coach Wayne Vickery, and Miller, a future Hall of Fame coach, as two of the most influential role models in his career.
“I’ve been very blessed to have some mentors in my career, and I owe them a lot, to have the opportunities I’ve gotten,” Perry said.
Perry’s solid rapport with every quarterback he’s coached can’t be overlooked either. He has watched a number of passers climb to higher ranks, Watson — of course — winning a college football national championship at Clemson before being selected by the Houston Texans as the 12th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Blake Sims (Gainesville), Mikey Gonzalez (Gainesville) and soon-to-be New Hampshire quarterback Max Brosmer out of Centennial were others to thrive in his system.
Not trying to sound boastful, Perry said, but he’s confident his system works. It’s worked everywhere he’s been, he added, and looks to lead the Vikings on the path toward success.
Perry’s identical twin brother Tyler, who coached alongside him at Gainesville, will be another addition to the East Hall staff.
“I have great passion for what I do, and I know it’s gonna work at East Hall also,” he said.
Former assistant coach Scott Patrick was head coach at East Hall in 2018 and guided the program to a 3-7 record. Patrick took over for long-tenured coach Bryan Gray, who stepped down after 11 seasons.