Over the last two months, athletic director Tony Wolfe acquired more than 60 qualified candidates for the coveted football head-coaching vacancy at Buford High.
But as Wolfe and company conducted a number of phone interviews and reviewed the resumes, it became abundantly clear the best man for the job was right in front of them all along.
The school confirmed via press release Monday, Jan. 7, the promotion of Wolves defensive coordinator and longtime assistant Bryant Appling to head coach. Appling takes over for John Ford, who resigned from the position in November, 2018, after only two seasons.
“This whole process was a whirlwind, crazy at times. But you know what, the time was perfect and I just couldn’t be more excited for my first (head coaching) opportunity at Buford High School, and being able to stay with my family in place,” Appling said.
Wolfe acknowledged Monday that a big weight was lifted off his shoulders. Appling’s character, integrity and love for Buford made him the obvious choice at the end of the day. The 39-year-old Appling has 17 years of coaching experience, having spent the last 15 at Buford.
Wolfe went on to say Appling’s love for the youth and love of leading is exemplary.
“He really loves our kids. Whether they are a star player, or they never step on the field or court — depending on what sport — he leads them and holds them accountable, and the kids have a lot of respect for him,” Wolfe said. “Yet at the same time, they enjoy being around him.
“You know, he just has that kind of ‘it’ factor as a coach. And the one thing he doesn’t have yet is that head-coaching experience. But he certainly has all the other things that we feel are so important. At the end of the day, he was the obvious choice for us.”
Hired in 2004 by former longtime head coach and athletic director Dexter Wood, Appling began coaching safeties before he worked his way up the ranks. Appling worked under three head coaches in that span, helping the Wolves win seven state championships. Appling spent the last five seasons as the Wolves’ defensive coordinator under Jess Simpson and Ford.
“They all are special to me, they taught me things I couldn’t learn from any other place or any other person,” Appling said. “From coach Wood, the intangible side of coaching. … Coach Simpson having vision and the way he taught me to see things down the road, even though it might not look so bright at the time. He could see things and manipulate things years ahead of time.
“Coach Ford, he definitely taught some things and he didn’t have to keep me on staff but he did. He trusted me to run a defense and I am very appreciative for him of that,” Appling added.
The Wolves in Appling’s system were a stout defensive unit, as opponents averaged just 12 points a game over the last five seasons. In 2018, Buford gave up just 13 points a game and pitched three shutouts.
The Wolves won seven championships in 10-consecutive title-game appearances from 2007-16 under Simpson’s watch. But Buford would then take a small step back upon his departure.
Despite a 21-5 record and leading the Wolves to back-to-back region titles in 2017-18, a state semifinal berth in 2017 was the furthest Buford could go under Ford.
In 2018, Buford was upset by eventual Class 5A champion Bainbridge in the state quarterfinals. It was the first time the program had failed to reach the semis since 2006, also snapping Buford’s long-standing home playoff win streak of 35 games.
While the groundwork is already laid before the program as far as expectations go, Appling fully intends to keep that tradition going. Making sure his players fall in love with the process of becoming great, as well as becoming the best students and human beings off the field are other aspects. With many of the defensive coaches still on staff, Appling hopes to add a couple more pieces soon.
“I’ve been here for 15 years, so I know how it was all developed,” he said.
“The deal is, from my learning from coach Wood and coach Simpson, that if you don’t do the process of getting better each and every day correct, you won’t have a chance when it gets to November and December.”
Prior to Buford, Appling began his coaching career as a defensive coordinator at Lithonia. The Decatur native played football at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Penn.