Jared Hodge is trading the ballpark for the hardwood.
Johnson High’s baseball coach will step down from his post following this season to become the school’s new girls basketball coach, athletic director Jonathan Edwards announced Monday in a Hall County Schools news release.
Hodge said the move “wasn’t made lightly,” but his time as a physical education and weight training instructor at Johnson allowed him to identify a group of girls basketball players he believes is on the verge of a breakthrough.
“One of great things about me being down in the gym and the weight room is I’ve had the opportunity to be around all of our student-athletes, not just baseball,” he said. “ … I already have a personal relationship with the girls. To already have that in place and then for the spot to come open and Mr. Edwards approach me about it, it was intriguing.”
Hodge, who said he’s from a “basketball family,” has three years of coaching experience in the sport as an assistant under Don Ledbetter at Habersham Central.
He’ll be the Lady Knights’ third coach in as many years, but Edwards is confident Hodge can take the program to the next level.
“The main thing is coach Hodge understands our culture at our school, both athletically and who we are,” the athletic director said. “He just does such a great job with the baseball program and is a cornerstone of the athletic department.
“We felt it’d be the right fit because the girls job needs a program builder. It just made sense to hire somebody that already has roots here.”
But that leaves another vacancy to fill for Edwards, who said the administration has already begun identifying candidates for the baseball coaching job. He hopes to quickly find Hodge’s replacement on the diamond to ensure a smooth transition and have a summer training program in place for the players.
“How do we find that person that understands the culture of our school, but also how do they add to it and continue to grow it?” Edwards said of the coaching search. “Then from a baseball standpoint, it has to be the right fit for X’s and O’s, personnel and developing the kids.”
That’s what made Hodge such a desirable candidate for the girls basketball job.
Edwards said Hodge’s basketball philosophy falls in line with that of former coach Duke Mullis — who left the program last month after one season with the team — making for a “natural progression” between the two head men.
Though Mullis’ Lady Knights went winless for the second straight season, both Hodge and Edwards said they saw huge development from the players in terms of skills and fundamentals.
“I know a lot of people look at their record and would probably say they aren’t very good, but they made tremendous strides over the last year,” said Hodge, a North Hall graduate. “Seeing that growth and knowing how hungry they are is exciting for me.”
He’s also thrilled about the players coming up through the system. Hodge said he’ll inherit a large class of eighth graders next year, and he expects to have full squads at both the varsity and junior varsity levels.
But he knows numbers alone don’t equal wins.
“With that youth, obviously there’s a lot of training and a lot of hard work ahead,” the coach said. “But the girls are willing and ready to dive into that.”
So is Hodge, but first he’ll finish his fifth year with Johnson’s baseball program. He gathered his players last Friday to inform them of his move.
“I didn’t want our baseball guys hearing from somebody else that I was moving on,” Hodge said. “I met with them first, and it was tough. Any time you’ve been with a group of people for five years, it’s tough to step away. I’ve invested so much in it, and I know how much the guys have invested in it, too. But I’m looking forward to next chapter.”