Jess Simpson knows how to push the right buttons as football coach at Buford High.
Not only is there a tremendous legacy to live up to with a program that finished the decade with six state titles, but he also knows how to mold younger players into future leaders.
It seems like he did both of those particularly well in 2009.
With a team abundant in younger players and light on seniors, the Wolves were forced to grow up quick en route to capturing the Class AA state title 13-10 against Calhoun on Dec. 11.
Now finished with his fifth season leading the Wolves, Simpson has shown that he can carry on the legacy started by former coach Dexter Wood, as Buford captured its third consecutive state title this year.
“As a coach, you wear a lot of different hats,” Simpson said. “You have to realize the fundamentals of the game are constant, but the variables are constantly changing.
“It’s satisfying as a coach when you can find the right buttons to push.”
For his efforts, Simpson is The Times’ 2009 Football Coach of the Year.
Simpson said that the biggest learning experience for the Wolves this season came with an early-season loss at Lovett, their first regular-season loss on Simpson’s watch. Losing instilled a heightened sense of urgency to improve in order to stay on the radar for the state title, as well as learning from their prior mistakes. Clearly, Simpson had the team’s full attention after the loss, ensuring they would not repeat past errors.
“I think this year’s team exceeded expectations, which are always present at Buford,” Simpson said. “That loss was the best thing to happen for us this season.”
In the state title game, Simpson also showed he isn’t afraid of rolling the dice.
With a 13-10 lead and only a couple minutes left to play, he called a halfback pass on third down and short, which resulted in a 40-yard gain and ensured the victory. It was the first time they’d tried such a play all year.
Part of the reward for winning the state title came when the players and coaches returned to campus this week. They’ve received plenty of praise for another state title which was aided by a 12-game winning streak after the early loss to Lovett.
“I’m still in shock since winning the state title and I’m just extremely proud of everyone and how they represent Buford football,” Simpson said. “This year, our seniors learned how to lead and the younger players really matured and took on a big role.”
Of course, Simpson isn’t oblivious to the talk that is circulating about trying to pinpoint the state’s top football program this decade. Buford is one of the schools many people mention along with a handful of Class AAAAA schools as the state’s best between 2000-2009.
“It’s not my job to answer the question,” Simpson said. “But whenever people talk about the best teams of the decade, Buford has to be a part of the conversation.”
And as a football coach, Simpson is always mindful about spinning things forward. He knows next year is already on the horizon, which he hopes will be a promising one with a relatively small number of this year’s team members graduating from the program.
“I’m excited for the possibilities for next season,” Simpson said. “Even though we’re going to enjoy the break for the holidays, football is one of those things that never seems to stop.”