2014-16 Region: 8-AAAA
New head coaches this year: David Bishop, football
Billy Wells has lived in northern Hall County for the past six years while working as a coach and athletic director in Gwinnett County.
Although the commute never really bothered him, Wells developed a growing desire to invest his time and energy into his own community.
Now, after two decades in the Georgia public school system, Wells is finally about to have that opportunity at North Hall.
Wells cannot be officially approved as the Trojans’ new athletic director until Monday’s board meeting, and he’s not sure if he even has a green shirt stashed away somewhere in a closet full of Lanier High orange, but he’s eager to hit the ground running at his new school.
The Times sports editor Jared Putnam sat down with Wells to discuss his new role at North Hall and what the Trojans can expect as they open play in Class AAAA this year, as part of a series of question-and-answer sessions with area athletic directors.
How attractive was it to have the chance to come work in your home community?
“For 20 years, I’ve always been involved in athletics. I’ve coached football, I’ve coached baseball, I’ve coached wrestling. My daughters are involved in horseback (riding) and soccer.
“As an AD or as a coach, you always talk to parents about wanting to invest in their kids’ lives, and so I think eventually for me it just came down to (asking), ‘Why am I not doing that for my own kids?’ When an opportunity to be in North Hall and in my own community (came up), I finally took my own advice. So, I’m excited for the opportunity to invest in my own community.”
With coaching a number of different sports, even if it was just in an assistant capacity apart from football, how much do you think that helps you relate to the different needs of each coach and athletic program?
“When I first started out at Loganville High School ... we started the wrestling program from scratch, and you learn about the needs of different programs.
“At Lanier, starting all sports programs as an athletic director, you really get to know what you have to have to function that first year. You realize all the little pieces that really go into making that program successful. Probably the biggest thing I learned from being the AD at a new school, is how important the relationships are with the players and the coaches, but also with the community, because it takes a lot of folks to make all programs run.
“Not just football, not just basketball, not just baseball, but all programs. It requires a lot of energy from a lot of different people.”
At Lanier you had to help build all their sports programs from the ground up when the doors opened in 2010. Obviously it’s a very different situation that you’re coming into here at North Hall with a school that’s been around for more than half a century. What about your experience at Lanier translates to this job?
“I think relationships are always important with the kid on the field ... or with the parent who’s trying to come to understand why their kid’s not playing as much as they think they should. I have kids of my own and I’ve experienced the same thing. ... When I was at Collins Hill, we were the biggest school in the state. Starting a program at Lanier was very different, but those relationships were just as important.
“Coming here, where they’ve had success academically and athletically, the relationships are just as important. For me that’s going to start with the coaches and the players, and I’m going to reach out to those people in the community — some that I may have connected with already and maybe some new people.”
You’ve been a head football coach for the past six years, but you won’t be a member of the North Hall football staff. When was the last time you weren’t coaching football in some capacity, and how tough of a transition do you expect that to be for you?
“Well, I’ve been involved in football every year of my life, either as a player or a coach, since I was 5. When I was in college at Georgia, I would drive home on Thursday nights and work with the eighth-grade program throughout the week. I’ve always been involved in some capacity, so it will be a change, for sure.”
You weren’t here to really see the North Hall teams firsthand last year, but the school sent a lot of teams to the playoffs last year. What stands out to you about the school from what you know?
“Living in the community, you get to talk to a lot of different people. I’ve gotten to listen to a lot of conversations about North Hall, and everything seems to come back to (the fact that) it’s a quality place with quality people. That probably is the most attractive thing about being here. From when I first got contacted about this job to going through the hiring process ... everyone just seems to be very genuine.”
Lanier jumped from Class AAA to Class AAAA while you were there in 2012, and North Hall is making the same jump this year. What kind of challenges do you anticipate based on what you saw with Lanier’s move two years ago?
“I think there’s always challenges when you play new people. Certainly, moving up in classification, there’s a lot of new pieces to that in all sports, just because you don’t always have that experience of having played that particular team or that particular coach in the past. There’s a learning curve, I think, for everybody, not just North Hall. That’s a good thing, that everybody’s on that learning curve.
“Moving up in classification, you would like to think with a large population, (it will translate to) bigger crowds. That’s the thing you hope for, but I think when you look at the region and the people we play, it’s exciting to play that kind of competition. I think there will be an adjustment period; we’ll just have to learn how everybody works with each other, both as sports programs and athletic directors and principals.”
Schools always face universal challenges as well as unique challenges. This is probably a somewhat unfair question to ask since you’ve been on campus all of a week, but have you seen anything that maybe puts North Hall in a unique position?
“Just, from what I gather, it’s such a great place that there’s not much turnover. Where I’ve been, whether it was because the school was so large or because there was growth, there were always opportunities to hire and bring in new people. Because this is a place where you don’t have people leave (very often), that’s a lot different for me. Basically the people that are here in the building today are probably the people that will be here in the building five years from now.
“Those relationships that you can establish are ones you’re going to have for a long time. I think that says a lot about this community and this school.”
Winning championships and building programs are certainly common goals in high school athletics. Is there anything else that comes to mind about what you’d like to accomplish here?
“I think what they have done in the past is a great resume for North Hall. The people here, the coaches here, are people that have not looked to just one season, they are truly program builders. I think that’s probably what’s helped contribute to the success of North Hall in the last decade.
“People aren’t just looking at the immediate future, they’re looking down the road and building. When a kid comes in as a ninth-grader, he’s probably going to be here until he’s a senior, and developing him over four years.
“That’s probably the thing I like most about North Hall. As a parent myself, if I know my kid is getting better, that’s a huge plus.
“When I look at the overall picture of the athletic program, I’m going to look to our coaches. I’m going to ask them about where they think we need to go, because I think they’ve already got that baseline established. I’m going to look to them for input about where we need to go as a group, not where I need to go.”