Matt Turner and his wife Keri were immersed in joy Monday afternoon, knowing that his football-coaching journey had led them back home to East Hall
The former Vikings assistant football coach also was flooded with congratulatory messages from former players and coaches he’d worked with in the past, shortly after the news got out about the East Hall High graduate being picked as its new head football coach.
“I’m as homegrown as it gets,” said Turner, who spent the 2020 season as offensive coordinator at Lakeview Academy.
Turner, who spent 2009-2017 as an assistant coach at East Hall, returns to fill the head coaching vacancy that came open March 2 when Michael Perry took the same position at Union County.
As for East Hall’s new coach, he couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity at hand.
“East Hall is like a small community but a close-knit family,” Turner said.
Turner said one of the most meaningful messages came from Bryan Gray, the head coach at East Hall from 2007-2017, expressing happiness over his former assistant coach coming back to East Hall as the man in charge.
“He’s Mr. East Hall,” said Gray, who now works in administration with The Foundry, an alternative school in Gainesville. “He grew up there, went to church there. That’s what East Hall needs. He’s a brilliant coach, works tirelessly and has great relationships with the kids. That’s a program that’s been in transition for a couple of years, but he’ll get things going in the right direction.”
After graduating from the University of Georgia, in 2005, Turner didn’t really know what he was going to do professionally.
He spent some time substitute teaching during the period after finishing school in Athens.
Pretty quickly, he felt a calling to work with high school kids. Already possessing a business degree, Turner became certified to teach business education and was given his first coaching opportunity, working with running backs at East Hall in 2009.
Quickly, his involvement and knowledge of working in East Hall’s spread offense, under Gray, led to Turner being promoted to offensive coordinator in 2014.
The 2014-2017 seasons were quite successful for the Vikings, resulting in playoff berths three times in the final four seasons with Gray in charge.
In 2017, Turner said rallying from an early 20-point hole in the first round of the postseason to beat No. 5 Morgan County — East Hall’s first playoff win in 25 years — was his most fond memory. It also helped putting a fitting cap to the career of quarterback Austin Parker, who passed for 4,563 yards in 2017 and 9,500 yards for his career.
“The kids flipped a switch during that game,” Turner said. “They were really able to see the fruits of all their labor that season.”
After the 2017 season, Turner left coaching, but not education, so he could spend more time with his mother, Bonnie, who was battling cancer and died in 2018.
“Stepping away from coaching was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made,” Turner said.
In 2020, Turner was patched through to Lakeview Academy’s first-year coach Lee Shaw. After clicking and having the same offensive philosophies, Turner worked as offensive coordinator for the Lions, during their first football playoff run in school history.
“Coach Turner did an outstanding job as our offensive coordinator/quarterback coach at Lakeview Academy,” Shaw said. “I thought he was able to adapt to the many situations during a ball game as the play caller. As an offensive coordinator, you should be able to keep your emotions in check as the game’s momentum jumps from sideline to sideline. He was cool-headed when the game got tight. I’m very proud of the opportunity that he has gotten as East Hall’s head football coach. I think he will have East Hall ready to compete.”
Turner said he’s going to have the same spread formation on offense at East Hall that he calls ‘basketball on grass.’ It’s similar to the style East Hall had when he was an assistant coach and the one season spent at Lakeview Academy.
The news East Hall coach has already met with his returning players.
It was important for his seniors, who are going to have their third new head coach since 2018, to know he’s trying to lay the groundwork for a long tenure at Valhalla.
“These kids need some stability,” Turner said. “I’m not coming for a year or two then leave. I want to put East Hall back on the map.”
In 2021, Turner will have the added luxury of working with senior quarterback Clete Cooper, who threw for more than 2,000 yards in the Vikings’ eight games last season.
“Clete has had some success and throws a nice ball,” Turner said. “He’s got a good understanding of the offense. I’m excited to work with him. I’m focused on the entire team, but it’s certainly nice to have a veteran quarterback.”