As mentioned in the first spring football blog last week, many decisions can go into a head coach changing jobs — money, family, desires to coach at an alma-mater, better opportunities. Sometimes a coaching change can be fueled by the desire to return to program where you have had success. It’s a homecoming.
That was the case for former Central-Macon coach Jesse Hicks, who is returning to Baldwin in Milledgeville after being away since 2009.
For Hicks, the decision to leave Central-Macon was not easy, and the 45-minute drive from Macon to Baldwin in Milledgeville did not sweeten the deal.
But the return to Class 4A Baldwin, where Hicks was the head coach from 2002-2009, will be full of great memories, old friends and a football team in need of a slight rebuild. In 2016, the Braves went 4-7 and lost to Cairo in the first round of the playoffs.
During the Hicks-era at Baldwin, the worst season, by record, came in 2004 (6-6). By 2008, Hicks and the Braves put together a school record 12-1 season, before losing to Flowery Branch in the third round of the playoffs. In the eight seasons that Hicks was at Baldwin, the Braves went to the playoffs seven times, only missing in 2003.
For a bit more background on coach Hicks, please see the Sept. 20, 2016 blog below.
Hicks took time Monday evening to answer a few questions about his change in a wide-ranging Q&A.
Q. How is everything going with the transition?
A. I won’t say it is odd, but it is different when you come back to a place you have been before and had some success. Families are not really that much different. You might be dealing with a younger brother or a cousin or nephew, or what have you. The transition is going very well. The kids are excited; the community is excited for me being here. But I tell them, “I don’t put on a helmet.” The big thing now is to just get the kids used to my style and what we are going to want as a staff and what we are going to want out of a program. So it is actually going very, very well. I am just getting used to the ride of 45 minutes back and forth (from Macon to Milledgeville). But that is not a big deal, because it gives me an opportunity to wind down on the ride home. It is going pretty good and we have very, very talented kids here. This place is probably the most talent-rich spot in the state of Georgia. Talent is not an issue. But can we cultivate the talent and get it going in the right direction?
Q. Tell me about your relationship with the Baldwin County fan base.
A. Man, it has been great. So many people have come by, especially this time of day when I am at the fieldhouse. I have had former player, parents, community people, the mayor, the chief of police. They have all told me how excited they are to have me back and that they cannot wait to get football season kicked off. Right now, we are all in the weight room and doing some conditioning to get the guys ready for spring practice, which we will kick off on May 8, and we will end it with a spring game on May 19. So we are excited about it. People are really jacked up about it, but I don’t put a helmet on, so we have to get these guys ready.
Q. Is this year a rebuilding year?
A. Well, it is one of those things, you can’t really say. From a record standpoint, I know they had some close games. Right now that can be tough (to decide). I know I can look at the athletes … I watch the track team, the baseball team and I know how talented they are. But talent doesn’t always win football games. It’s will. People think it is skill, but football is a game of will. We want to test these guys’ will during the offseason and during the spring and see. But from a talent standpoint, this place is just as rich, talent-wise, as it has ever been.
Q. What fueled the move?
A. To be honest with you, every time this job came open, in the couple of years since I was gone, people have always reached out to me. The new administration reached out to me on this occasion, and I responded like I always did: “I am happy where I am.” And then they asked if I would consider coming and talking, so I went and talked. And that new administration, to me, seems to understand the importance of having a quality program. You know, when you are in a place and you are pretty much, from a public-school standpoint, you are the only show in town, then people don’t have much to grasp. Again, people have a lot of expectations on this place. And when you come back to a place where you were before, people expect that same result. It is just one of those things where we just have to strap our cleats on real tight, go in the classroom, go on the field and go into the community to see if we can get this thing going in the right direction. But I honestly feel like — and I said this to the administration the other day — I feel like we are a playoff football team. I really do.
Q. Tell me about your coaching staff. Any of the same people from your last tenure at Baldwin?
A. No, not really. There are a few teachers and assistant coaches in other sports that are still here. Some of those guys who have been with me in the past will be coming back with me. Some of them are stepping out to get their own coaching jobs, which I am hoping and praying that coach Robert Cummings or coach Joc Sample will be able to get that Central job. Both have been with me since I recruited them and coached them at Albany State. Those guys came with me here when I coached here the first time. We are just eager to get started. We are putting together a really skilled staff. Some guys have coached college ball, guys who have been different places coaching and guys who are just eager to do it. They know that this place is good. It is good with athletes and just with the opportunity to come on and make a difference. They want to jump on board. Right now I’m putting together nine or 10 guys. I need a great staff, you know, I can’t do it by myself. We need to get these young people rolling, and I’m excited about it. The young people are really bought in already.
Q. A message for the Baldwin fan base, including those who might not know you?
A. Oh well, you know again, it is one of those things. What I like people to do is understand our purpose and our standards. And to really make these boys, these guys, these student-athletes better for us as fathers and neighbors. Football is just an avenue to get us together. Football is the thing that binds us. The kids enjoy it, and we love the sport. But at the end of the day the big thing is to make better husbands, fathers, and neighbors. And we cannot do it without the community. We are asking them to come out and get involved early. Our practices will be open, so you are more than welcome to come out and watch practice and be a part. If you haven’t been a part in the past, we would love to bring you in. The big thing is just, renewing old friendships and starting new ones. So it is one of those things where you want to gel and bring as many people in as you can, especially in a place like this. It is not a large place and everybody kind of knows everybody. You want to feel that family atmosphere. I told the guys that during our first meeting, family means “Forget about me; I love you.” And when you start putting other people in front of yourself, the whole process is going to work.