Jeff Steele is the new boys basketball head coach at Lumpkin County High School.
The Lumpkin board approved Steele’s hiring as coach and physical education teacher at a Thursday-morning board meeting. He will officially start his new job during the 2015-16 school year, but he said he planned to meet his new players Thursday.
Steele takes over the Indians program after 16 seasons at Johnson, including a 29-1 campaign in 2014-15 that included Lanierland and Region 8-AAAA titles and a state quarterfinal appearance.
Steele, who lives in Dahlonega, said being closer to his home was an important factor.
“I appreciate Lumpkin County being interested in me,” Steele said. “I feel like they really appreciate what I can do for them as a basketball coach.”
Lumpkin County athletic director Nicky Jenkins said “we feel very fortunate.”
“It’s a great opportunity for us to get a proven winner,” Jenkins said.
The Indians went 9-20 and lost to eventual state runner-up Morgan County in the first round of the Class AAA playoffs in 2014-15. Steele’s Johnson team defeated Lumpkin County 88-62 on Nov. 18, but with being in a different region and not seeing the Indians after that, the coach said he still needs to get up to speed on what he knows was a young roster.
“The potential’s there to get better, to have more success this coming year,” Steele said. “We’re just going to get in there and work.”
He went from a 1-21 mark in his first year as head coach at Johnson to the one-loss season that ended in the state quarterfinals in 2014-15. Overall, he compiled a 270-81 record while leading the Knights to nine playoff appearances, four region championships — including the past three in 8-AAAA — and the 2014 and 2015 Lanierland titles.
The longtime Johnson coach emphasized how appreciative he was for his time with the Knights.
“I love my time here at Johnson. The kids are awesome. They’re all my family. The community is special, especially the last four years the way they’ve rallied behind us,” Steele said. “The support they’ve given us through the years is second to none.”
Jenkins said seeing the kind of impact Steele made on his former players cemented the decision to hire him to coach the Indians.
“We don’t want to wish our lives away,” Jenkins said. “And we look forward to seeing our spring teams in the playoffs. But we’re already excited about the next (basketball) season and so are the kids after talking to them.”
Steele said he will finish out his contract at Johnson in June and officially start at Lumpkin County in the fall.
Lumpkin County superintendent Dewey Moye said Steele stood out.
“He applied and we offered him the position,” Moye said. “We felt like he was the most qualified applicant for the job.”