Head coaches in the state finals: Classes AAA, AA and A

The 16 head coaches in the state finals have won 2,331 games, lost only 729, tied seven, and have a winning percentage of .761. They’ve won 30 state championships.

GHSF Daily is taking a closer look each of the 16 this week, concluding today with classes AAA through A.

Class AAA

*Chad Campbell, Peach County:Campbell has the second-highest winning percentage (.845) among active coaches with at least 100 wins, trailing only Franklin Stephens, and the sixth-highest in state history with 100 wins. He has been at Peach County for 25 years, the past 11 as head coach. Campbell is from Hawkinsville and was a baseball player at Abraham Baldwin. His brother, Lee, led Hawkinsville to state titles in 2003 and 2004 and is on Chad’s staff now as defensive coordinator. Those are the only brothers with state titles in Georgia. Chad won a state title with Peach in 2009. Campbell was the 13th-fastest Georgia coach to 100 wins (in 120 games). His former assistants include current head coaches Mike Chastain of Warner Robins and Dean Fabrizio of Lee County, who also are in the finals. Campbell’s career record is 120-22.

*Hal Lamb, Calhoun: When Lamb became Calhoun’s head coach in 1999, the Yellow Jackets had one region title and one playoff victory in their previous 45 seasons. Calhoun’s 2017 region champion was the school’s 17th in a row and covers more than 100 consecutive region victories and two state titles (2011, 2014). Lamb is 219-36 at Calhoun, 224-51 overall as a head coach. Lamb first made a name for himself as an eight-year assistant at Cartersville, where he was the offensive coordinator on the 1991 Class AA championship team. Lamb is the son of Ray Lamb, who won state titles at Warren County and Commerce and claimed 249 games over 32 seasons. Hal’s brother Bobby is the head coach at Mercer University. Bobby was the quarterback and Hal a receiver on the 1981 Commerce team, coached by Ray, that won a Class AA title. Hal is one of only about 12 men who have won GHSA titles as player and head coach. Lamb played at West Georgia and is a member of the school’s sports hall of fame.

Class AA

*Winston Gordon, Hapeville Charter: Gordon had been the district director of recreation for four years under Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin when hired to start the football program at Hapeville Charter in 2009. There were only ninth-graders in the high school then. As for football, Gordon says, “They just wanted something for the kids to keep them out of trouble.” Gordon had no previous intention of being a football coach nor any experience at it except for a stint as a graduate assistant at Savannah State, where he was a three-year starting linebacker. When he graduated, Gordon ran the Boys and Girls Clubs of Savannah. Now eight years into his new career, Hapeville is playing for its first state title. Its alumni already include LSU’s Arden Key, a likely first-round NFL Draft choice. Gordon, from Clewiston, Fla., has a record of 37-34, but it’s 23-5 the past two seasons with a pair of region titles. Hapeville would be the first school established as a charter school to win a state title in Georgia.

*Lee Shaw, Rabun County: Shaw, a Rabun County native, returned to his alma mater in 2012 and immediately led the Wildcats to their first playoff berth since 1998. Rabun has won four consecutive region titles and reached its first state-championship game this season. Shaw is 59-14 at Rabun County. He was 79-41 at Flowery Branch, a program that he started in 2002, and led the Falcons to the 2008 Class AAA championship game. Shaw is one of 31 coaches who have led two schools to GHSA finals. Shaw was a quarterback and free safety at Rabun County and played wide receiver and punt returner at Western Carolina. He was an assistant at Rabun and Stephens County before his first head coaching at White County (1995-99). Shaw has coached four first-team all-state quarterbacks. They include current Rabun QB Bailey Fisher and Shaw’s sons Jaybo and Connor at Flowery Branch. Connor went on to play at South Carolina and in the NFL.

Class A (private)

*Josh Alexander, Athens Academy: Athens Academy hired Alexander in 2015 from Archer, where he had been the offensive coordinator and was part of Archer’s 2014 Class AAAAAA runner-up team. Alexander had been at the Gwinnett County school since it opened in 2009 but had lived in Athens since around 2000, when he became a student at the University of Georgia. Alexander also worked on the staffs at Parkview, Washington-Wilkes and Clarke Central. Alexander is 31-5 in three seasons at Athens Academy. This season, the Spartans won their first region title since 2012, reached their first state semifinal since 2007 and advanced to their first championship game in history. Alexander is a graduate of Morrow High in Clayton County.

*Jonathan Gess, Eagle’s Landing Christian: Gess, a native of South Carolina, was a walk-on player and three-year starting center at Citadel who went into the Air Force upon graduation and was stationed at Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins. While there, he began helping First Presbyterian Day’s middle school and then high school team and eventually got a full-time job on the staff. ELCA hired him as head coach in 2007 at age 27. “The administration here was purposely looking for a young coach that would learn and grow on the job, so I got lucky to get it,” Gess said. His 11-year record with the Chargers is 117-26. ELCA has won eight consecutive region titles and won Class A championships in 2012, 2015 and 2016. The current 35-game winning streak is among the 12 longest in state history, and the longest ever for a private school.

Class A (public)

*Jim Dickerson, Clinch County: Dickerson is a Clinch County graduate who has spent almost his entire life in Homerville. He played on the Panthers’ first region-championship team as a nose guard in 1980 under coach Donald Tison. Dickerson then played two years at Georgia Southwestern and finished up at Valdosta State. He came back to Homerville as a student teacher and volunteer assistant on Tison’s staff in 1988, when the Panthers won the first of their six Class A championships. He joined the staff full-time the next season, became defensive coordinator in 1994 under Cecil Barber and head coach in 2004. Dickerson’s record is 138-43-1. He is one of five active coaches with three state championships in the GHSA.

*Buddy Nobles, Irwin County: Nobles is a Jacksonville native in his 30th season on high-school football sidelines. He got the Irwin County job in 2014. His record is 41-11-2 with region championships and state-final appearances in 2014, 2015 and 2017. Nobles has worked most of his career alongside Robby Pruitt, whose Coffee team is in the Class AAAAAA final. Nobles was on Pruitt’s staff at University Christian (1989-92) and Union County (1993-99) in Florida and Fitzgerald (2007-11) and Coffee (2012-13) in Georgia. Nobles was part of six Florida state-championship teams. He also was head coach at Union County from 2002 to 2006 and was a state runner-up in 2003. His overall record is 72-38-2. Nobles is trying to win his first state title as a head coach in his fourth appearance.

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