March 9, 2013 10:12:02 PM
Shawn Gregory has tried to give back wherever he has worked as a teacher and a coach.
Whether it has been at the prep, college, or professional level, the New Hope High School graduate has gained invaluable insight about the best ways to relate to players and to teach them the lessons they need to succeed.
Gregory's journey came full circle in July when he returned to his alma mater as an assistant football coach. On Friday, it took another turn as the Lowndes County School Board unanimously approved Gregory's hiring as New Hope High's football coach.
"It is a good feeling to be back home," said Gregory, who is from Columbus and who graduated from New Hope High in 1986. "I have been a lot of places, and I saw it as an opportunity to come back and to give some kids some things they need to help them be successful in life, whether it is on the football field, in the classroom, or being a good gentleman in everyday walk of life."
Gregory was a member of New Hope High's football, boys basketball, baseball, and track and field teams. He went on to be a standout quarterback at Jackson State University (1987-1990). As a senior at JSU, he earned first-team All-Southwestern Athletic Conference honors after leading the team with 2,762 passing yards. That season he also set an NCAA record for most yards gained per completion (33) in a 52-14 victory against Southern University. Gregory had 14 completions for 462 yards in the victory. In 2009, he was elected to JSU's Sports Hall of Fame.
Gregory will replace Michael Bradley, who resigned as coach in January after seven seasons. Bradley, who was head football coach at Mooreville High (six years) and Pearl River Central (three years) before coming to New Hope, was 41-40 in seven seasons. He inherited a program stuck in a seven-year run of losing seasons. He led the team to a 1-9 finish in his first season in 2006, but he helped the program turn the corner in 2007, when it went 6-4.
New Hope had its best seasons under Bradley the next three years. In 2008, New Hope went 8-5 in Class 4A before moving up to Class 5A the following season. In 2009, New Hope went 11-2 and lost to West Point in the North State final. The Trojans went 8-5 in 2010. They slipped to 4-7 and 3-8 the past two seasons and didn't qualify for the postseason.
"Coach Gregory did an outstanding job," Bradley said of Gregory, who worked as defensive backs coach and special teams coordinator this past season. "He did everything we asked him to do. He has coached on the college level and is very knowledgeable about football. He has a deep knowledge of the game. He has a great demeanor and a mind-set about what it takes young men to perform at a high level. He is from New Hope, which is always a plus being from the school you're coaching at, so he knows the school and community. I think he will do a real good job for us. I am real proud the boys got a quality head coach like Shawn Gregory."
New Hope Athletic Director Dale Hardin echoed those thoughts. Hardin, who was head football coach New Hope and served as defensive coordinator for Bradley, coached Gregory in the eighth and ninth grades when he was defensive coordinator for head coach Jimmy Moore. Hardin remembers a running back and free safety who was quiet but who made plays.
"He led by example and was a playmaker whether he was on the baseball field, the basketball court, on the track or on the football field," Hardin said. "He just made plays. He was a great athlete."
Hardin, who didn't work as a coach this past season, believes Gregory has a "great knowledge" of the game and that he relates well to the players. He said Gregory's wealth of experience at all levels will serve him well as he transitions into the role of head coach.
"He plans on this being his last stop," Hardin said. "He wants to do well at his home school. He knows some people here, which brings some pressure to the situation. I have talked to a lot of former Trojans and a lot of them are excited about him being back home."
Gregory's coaching journey began in 1996, when he served as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks and running backs coach at Redan High (Ga.). The coaching road took him to the college level -- Morris Brown College, Tuskegee University, Mississippi Valley State University, Samford University -- to the pros -- he worked as an intern with the San Diego Chargers wide receivers in 2004-05 and as an intern with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterbacks in 2006 -- and back to the high school level for several stops in the state of Alabama before he received a phone call about a job at New Hope High. He said one call turned into multiple calls, which piqued his curiosity about returning home to be a football coach.
Gregory said he will work as a physical education teacher, but that he isn't sure if a teaching spot will open for him to serve in that capacity at the elementary school, the middle school, or the high school. He feels the relationship he built with the players on the 2012 team will help him impart the things he has learned at all of his stops.
"If some of them have aspirations to get to the next level, I want to show them the expectations of the next level," Gregory said. "I want to give them an idea about how to get there, and the direction and the work ethic they need to be successful at that level.
"I have recruited a lot of players in my years at the college level, so I try to let them know some of th things coaches are going to look for if we have a potential player who can play at the next level."
On Friday, Lowndes County School Board member Wesley Barrett, who represents the New Hope community, made a motion to find a way to pay Gregory for the work he has been working with the football players for the past few weeks, and for the work he will do in the spring. Gregory accepted the job last month, but his appointment didn't become official to Friday. The school board went into executive session to discuss Barrett's motion. When it came out of executive session, it voted unanimously to amend the date of Gregory's appointment as football coach from Aug. 5, which was listed on the agenda for the meeting, to July 1.
Bradley said his resignation was dated June 28.
"I have only met coach Gregory once at a New Hope baseball game, but I am going on a majority of the people who have interviewed him for the position," Barrett said. "Obviously he is a good coach. The main thing is character, discipline, and bringing the inner qualities out of the people that are positive. What people tell me is he brings the best out of people as far as morale and the character of the individual."
Lowndes County Superintendent of Schools Lynn Wright, a state championship football coach at Pickens Academy in Carrollton, Ala., and a former principal at New Hope High, has talked with Gregory and is confident his wealth of experience and his track record will help him have success.
"From what I can gather, he is a man of integrity and character and is a hard worker," Wright said. "I think he is going to do an outstanding job in leading the Trojans into the future. I appreciate the job coach Bradley has done in the past, and all of the assistant coaches and all of the successes they have had.
"I know coach Gregory knows what it takes to win, as did coach Bradley. Coach Gregory will bring in his way, and he already has a good rapport with the assistant coaches that are there and the students. With his character, I think he will be able to get maximum effort pout of his players and maximum participation from the athletes in the school."
New Hope High Principal Matt Smith hopes that is the case, too. He said the seven-member committee that interviewed the candidates to replace Bradley liked everything about Gregory and his résumé. Smith said the committee interviewed 11 people. He said eight of those 11 were "very, very, very serious" candidates. He said all of those people will be head coaches and will be successful in their own right.
"We feel blessed to have the coach Gregory as the next man taking over the football program," Smith said. "When you have, basically, seven different people on the interview committee leaning in the same direction, you have to be happy with the choice."
Gregory anticipates working with the offense and calling plays. He isn't sure if he will hold the title of "offensive coordinator" or if he will hire or appoint someone to handle that role. He said his Trojans will be "relentless" on both sides of the ball.
"I want the best effort the players can give," Gregory said. "If they plan on being successful, that is the first thing they need to do -- to come out with the mind-set to be the best and to give your best effort, even at times when you don't feel like doing it. Those are the times when you need to press harder.
"I am going to be constantly preaching and teaching. I don't really consider myself a coach. I consider myself a teacher. If I can teach them what I expect out of them, they can execute."
Gregory also said any of the coaches who were on the football staff this past season and want to be at New Hope High for the 2013 season are welcome to return. After being part of a team that didn't reach the playoffs in 2012, Gregory is excited about the potential of the 2013 group. He feels that team's ability to pay attention to detail and to stay humble will determine its ability to achieve great things.
"As long as you are making a difference in a kid and making him a better person, you will be a good coach for a long time," Gregory said. "That's all I try to do. The wins and losses will take care of themselves. If I can make a difference in a kid's life and make him a better person, at the end of the day somewhere I will be still coaching."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.