Josh Niblett already had a taste of what Gainesville has to offer before it became official Monday morning.
Now, he plans on making the Red Elephants’ football program perennially one of the best in the state in any classification.
“I didn’t come here to win games, I’m coming to win championships,” Niblett said after being introduced as the new face of the program.
With a robust crowd on hand at the school’s cafeteria, Niblett was welcomed to the program, bringing an end to a search that lasted less than a month.
In the high school football coaching world, Niblett’s name is well-known and highly regarded.
At Hoover High (Alabama), he guided the program to three Class 6A and then three Class 7A state championships and a 92-8 mark in region play between 2008-2021.
Now, the 49-year-old Alabama native is bringing the same energy and charisma to Gainesville High.
An early-morning meeting to approve the hire was held by the Gainesville City Schools System, Red Elephants athletics director Adam Lindsey said.
Niblett’s background makes his lofty expectations seem realistic.
At Hoover, he guided the Bucs to a 171-26 mark.
Niblett’s career record as a head coach in Alabama is 236-58.
On hand for the introduction of Niblett and his wife, Karon, were their two youngest children — daughter Harper, 19, and son, Sky, 16, who will enroll as a sophomore at Gainesville High after his current wrestling season ends at Hoover.
Niblett said he will start his position with Gainesville High on Feb. 1.
“We’re excited to have coach Niblett here,” Lindsey said. “He’s going to set the tone for the program moving forward. We know he’s going to do it the right way.”
This isn’t Niblett’s first experience in Gainesville.
For several years, about a decade ago, Niblett said he worked a QBR football summer camp for prospects at Riverside Military Academy.
On his daily run of scenic Riverside Drive, he’d take the right turn on to Ronnie Green Parkway and see historic City Park Stadium on the left.
“There’s nothing like coming down Riverside Drive and turning and smelling breakfast at Longstreet (Cafe),” Niblett said, while speaking with media members after the conference concluded.
Little did Niblett know, he’d be the man in charge of the Red Elephants starting in 2022.
Gainesville’s newest coach takes over for four-year coach Heath Webb, who stepped down on Nov. 17, after going 18-25 overall.
In 2021, the Red Elephants finished 5-5 and missed the postseason for the first time since 1999.
When Niblett was introduced, he addressed football players who were sitting front and center to hear the new coach talk.
Fans, students and community members filled every seat in the cafeteria while others lined the walls.
“I see a program here, at Gainesville, that is yearning to be successful,” Niblett said.
Niblett, who is resolute in his Christian faith, said he will be a presence in the Gainesville community as soon as his family is able to close on a house in the city limits and get settled.
Niblett becomes just the seventh head coach at Gainesville High since the legendary Bobby Gruhn took the position in 1963.
Lindsey said Niblett came to Gainesville to interview for the position on Dec. 7 and accepted the job two days later.
Right away, Niblett said he’s eager to meet with football players and get to know his personnel.
In 2022, the Red Elephants are going to have plenty to work with on offense, as quarterback Baxter Wright, wide receiver Ellis Pitts and running back Naim Cheeks are all expected to be back.
The new Red Elephants’ head coach said decisions about his coaching staff will be made during a separate evaluation process.
Niblett, who played football at the University of Alabama under Gene Stallings from 1993-95, speaks passionately about the biggest influence in shaping his path.
“My father (John) has been my biggest influence,” Niblett said. “He coached for 30 seasons. I saw how he worked with people and surrounded himself with successful people.”
Niblett went to Alabama, as a walk-on, and moved around regularly between quarterback, strong safety, outside linebacker, fullback and tight end.
Prolonged success is the goal for Gainesville’s newest coach.
And the Red Elephants aren’t far removed from the years they were a state powerhouse in football.
After a move down to Class 6A, in 2022, from the state’s highest classification, Niblett is confident he can bring that swagger back to Gainesville.
The Red Elephants experienced a long run of success in recent years, which included 10 seasons with at least 10 wins since 2002 — all under retired coach Bruce Miller, who is now coach at Lanier Christian Academy.
Gainesville’s only GHSA state championship for football came in 2012, with Deshaun Watson at quarterback.
The Red Elephants have had four state-semifinal appearances in that span with two trips to the state championship game (2009 and 2012).
After shaking hands for about an hour, Niblett also spoke with media about the environment he wants to create for Gainesville High football.
At Hoover, Niblett’s program routinely played in front of close to 15,000 fans on Fridays at the Hoover Met Sports Complex, just outside of Birmingham.
Right away, the Red Elephants’ new coach has expectations to have a packed house at City Park Stadium to watch the action on Bobby Gruhn Field.
In addition to a new coach, Gainesville High is ushering in its new Student Activities Center, which will house the football program, and is expected to be complete in the summer.