If there was ever a dream job for the newly hired Buford head football coach John Ford, he has found it. Ford took Buford’s top spot in January after long-time coach Jess Simpson resigned to take the defensive-line coach at Georgia State and then, in a twist, was hired by the Falcons.
The short-lived vacancy at Buford was one of the most coveted jobs in Georgia high school football, and it is safe to say Ford was elated when he got the call.
“I think Buford is the perfect job,” said Ford. “It has the small-town feel. It is a one-town, one-community, one-goal kind of place. But it is in metro-Atlanta so that is big for me. It is near family, who are in Gwinnett. So, it is the perfect job.”
While Simpson was at Buford, the job was reportedly the highest-paying in the state.
Ford, however, is not just focused on football. The thoughts of his family and his future in the Buford system are important.
“Good Lord willing, I get to grow old here,” he said. “My girls get to go to school here. My youngest daughter is 1, so they are going to have to run me out of here.”
Ford is leaving a Roswell program that went 14-1 last year including a win over Buford. The one loss came in overtime, 23-20, to Grayson in the Class AAAAAAA championship game. In 2015, Ford led Roswell to another 14-1 record but fell short again in the championship game, this time to Colquitt County, 30-13.
In the two seasons before Ford took the head job at Roswell, the Hornets had a 3-17 record. It was a major drop for a program that had tied Peachtree Ridge in the 2006 championship game. In his first season, 2013, Roswell went 4-6 and then 8-4 in 2014 before the two 14-1 seasons in 2015-16.
During his four seasons leading Roswell, Ford put together a 40-12 record and by all accounts turned the program around almost overnight. It was impressive, considering he had been an assistant coach and only filled the head coaching void after Roswell let go of Justin Sanderson after the 2012 season.
And consider: Ford was an assistant coach five years ago for Roswell teams that went 0-10 and 3-7 and had never been a head coach. In four seasons at the helm of that same program, he had two title-game appearances. Ford then landed the high-profile Buford job.
The story brings to memory Danny Willett’s Masters win last year, an obscure Tour pro thrust into the spotlight with an unexpected win, if you will. Sure, a decent number of high school coaches have climbed from obscurity and into the state playoffs in a short time, that is not unheard of. But Ford went from an assistant at a program in a rut to the Buford head coaching job, impressive.
Now, it’s on to Buford, a program that has won 11 state titles since 1978, 10 titles since 2001 and three in a row from 2012-14. It seems that the future is bright for the Wolves as a page turns in the history books of one of the most storied football programs in the state.
Ford took time Friday morning to answer a few questions about the coaching change, the challenges and other things during a wide-ranging Q&A.
Q. What fueled the big move?
A. Truth be told, what a special place Buford is. I mean just growing up in Gwinnett and watching it from afar. Just the leadership, the culture and the type of football they play … it is just unbelievable. I first heard of the job in late December, and it happened very quickly to be honest with you.
Q. Tell me about your ascent in the Roswell program?
A. I just had some people who were very supportive. I was fortunate to work for a great principle in Jerome Huff and a great athletic director in John Coen. They believed in me. They gave us what we needed to succeed.
Q. How do you cope with a job where anything short of the state finals is viewed as a disappointment?
A. I am excited about it, to be very honest with you. If you are not trying to be the best and aren’t trying to compete at a high-level, what are you doing? So, I am fired up about it, and I welcome it. I just think you don’t worry about that stuff right now. You just worry about being one day better, every day. But yeah, this is a place with high standards and high expectations and that is what you want.
Q. How are things, heading into spring practice?
A. We are in kind of our off-season training like everybody else. The kids are working hard; they’re great. Great young men who have obviously been coached very well. Coach Simpson and his staff, you can’t say enough about just what kind of men and coaches those guys are. I am just privileged to be here.
Q. Any coaching changes or housekeeping?
A. You know what, to be honest with you, not anything I would like to go on the record with. Not to disrespect you, I know you have a job to do, but not anything I will feel comfortable going on the record on. I know you have to ask; it’s your job. We are good.
Q. Your coaching style … is there a college program that you lean toward?
A. Oh gosh, I don’t know. I wouldn’t want to compare myself to a college coach because those guys are so good at what they do. Um, I don’t think, you know, when you compare something, someone is getting devalued in the comparison. I don’t think I’d feel right comparing myself to a college coach because those guys are at the top of the food chain for a reason. So I just try to be the very best version of myself and whatever that looks like, I can’t control.
Q. Would you view this as a rebuilding season or reloading season?
A. Whatever happened last year is last year. And we are just going to go out and try to be the best version of the 2017 Buford Wolves football team and maximize our capacity individually, as individuals, and collectively as a team. You know, not worry about labels and just worry about being better every day and stacking good days on top of good days.
Q. The upcoming Corky Kell Classic, where Buford was slated to play Roswell, and the pairings were changed … any comment?
A. That was not changed because of anything to do with me. That was set in stone last year actually, the four teams the Friday night were Buford, Roswell, Hillgrove and South Forsyth. So, last year Buford and Roswell played, and Hillgrove and South Forsyth played, and it had already been determined that those will be flipped coming into this year. So, whether I was at Buford, Roswell or any of those other schools, Buford was going to play Hillgrove and South Forsyth was going to play Roswell.
Q. Five years ago, looking ahead, did you ever see yourself as the Buford football coach?
A. I want to retire at this job. I want to raise my young daughters in this community. I want this to be the last job I ever have. I think this is the perfect job.
Q. If you have a message to the Buford fan base, what is it?
A. For those who have come before and for those who will come and for the group of men who are going to take the field this fall, we are going to work every day to make you proud.