By Gabriel Stovall
GRIFFIN, Ga. – After two seasons at the helm of the crowning jewel football program in Spalding County, Jarrett Laws is out as Griffin’s head coach as of this past Friday.
Laws said it was a situation where he was “forced to walk away from an incomplete job.”
The first report came by way of an article from the Griffin Daily News, citing anonymous sources and a report that the official word on the coach’s ouster would not come from the school until January 5 at the earliest.
But Laws, the former Mount Zion (Clayton County) coach and founder of Drew’s athletic department, said he wanted to get ahead of the game as far as communicating accurate information was concerned.
“I think within the Griffin community, the (football) head coaching position holds so much weight here that it was inevitable that the information would get out prematurely,” Laws said. “So I understand why it was released. It’s just that when information is disseminated, and I have not commented, I need to make sure that the story is told correctly.”
That story, Laws said, is a case where the school’s current principal determined that coach and current administration were not a good fit.
Laws was brought in from Drew after Griffin’s 2013 Class AAAA championship and the subsequent dismissal of Steven Devoursney who oversaw a program that was marred with allegations of academic dishonesty and recruiting, particularly in his final season.
Griffin’s principal at the time of Laws’ hire was Keith Simmons. Simmons left Griffin when he was promoted to be Bibb County’s chief of staff. Dr. Darrell Evans, former principal at Class AAAA powerhouse Sandy Creek, was Simmons’ successor.
Laws said that while the relationship was not particularly contentious, it was clear that there wasn’t a true bond between the two.
“I would say there was probably a rift in communication from the beginning,” Laws said. “I’m a very self-reflective person and never one to try to push blame in any one direction. But I was told Friday by Dr. Evans that I was a good guy, but just not his guy.”
Laws said Evans insisted the dismissal had nothing to do with Griffin’s 6-5 mark in 2015 – the program’s worst season since Devoursney’s third team finished the 2003 season with the same record. Laws said that upon Evans’ entrance to Griffin he wasted no time trying to help his new boss understand who he was.
“I sent him an email that was basically a summary of where the program was and what my vision for it would be,” Laws said. “I was then called into a meeting during the summer where I was asked the question, ‘Why do you think you should be the head football coach at Griffin?’ From that point, I asked him if I was basically being re-interviewed for my job. He said it was just more of a general introduction.”
From there, he said there was little communication, save a brief conversation where Laws said he was told by Evans that all coaches would be evaluated at the end of their seasons.
“I was given an evaluation that I filled out,” Laws said. “It was the first time I had seen the categories of the evaluation. In 18 years of coaching and teaching that was the first time I had filled out an evaluation like that without getting the chance to review the categories first. But I filled it out, sent it back to him and Friday I was told that I was no longer the coach at Griffin.”
According to Laws, Evans cited “wanting a stronger focus on academics because a couple of kids were struggling,” and “having a coach being more involved in the community” the main reasons why the change was being made.
And although Laws said his conversation with Evans was “more of a monologue on his part rather than a dialogue,” when asked if he felt his principal’s reasons were valid, Laws provided some push back.
“By tallying the grades – something that our booster club does every year – I was told by our booster club that our team saw the highest grades in probably the last 20 years,” Laws said. “As far as not being involved enough in the community, if speaking at churches, visiting elderly centers, attending little league football games and visiting elementary schools wasn’t being involved in the community enough, then I guess I would be guilty of not being involved.”
Any other causes for termination, Laws said, would be news to him.
“If there were any more reasons, they weren’t brought to my attention,” he said.
The coach said he was assured that his athletic and instructional contract would be honored through the remainder of the school year. And make no mistake about it, Laws said he definitely wants to coach again.
“I want to be in the place that is wherever the Lord would have me be,” he said.
On the Griffin side of things, rumors have floated that, because of Evans’ connection with Sandy Creek, the school may be pursuing Sandy Creek football coach Chip Walker. Walker has built a powerhouse program in Tyrone over the last 11 seasons, winning multiple region titles and three state championships.
Laws admitted that it was a bit painful to leave a place where he felt he had a long range vision and plan to make the program stronger than it had ever been, but he said he harbors no hard feelings to anyone at the school for the decision made.
“I walk away always having a special respect and admiration for the community of Griffin,” he said. “It’s a unique place. I’m better for having worked there, and I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity to coach there. I know that I was brought there for a purpose.”
And, as Laws has said throughout a season of gridiron struggles – and really beyond his time in Griffin – he will continue to evaluate his success beyond wins and losses.
“I’ve been 10-0 and I’ve been 0-10 and everything in between,” Laws said. “Maya Angelou once said that the thing people remember is relationships. So I will never base my success on metrics. It’s all about people.”
Laws said one particular story of a player whom he wanted to remain nameless best capsulizes what he feels his short lived tenure at Griffin –and his overall approach to coaching high school football — was all about.
It was a guy who hadn’t played at the school in three years, and had actually been transferred from Griffin to an alternative school due to behavioral issues.
“His grades were abysmal,” Laws said. “By all accounts, including out of his own mouth, there seemed to be no hope for him.”
But Laws said he saw something shift in the kid once he made it back to Griffin with one more chance to sport Griffin’s green and gold uniform.
“By the time that kid graduated and finished his one year under me, he had no in school or out of school suspensions. Grades improved, and every long time Griffin coach who saw it basically said it was a miracle they witnessed in his change.
“But at the end of his time there, I’ll never forget how he came and hugged me, looked me in the eye and said, ‘Coach you changed me.’”
Laws said he’s not sure what’s next for him. But that story will be the kind he’ll pitch to the next school who expresses their interest in him as coach.
“I’ll always be about building the program from within first,” he said. “It’ll always be about building quality, high character men first. After that the wins will come both on and off the field. Any place where I end will have to know that that won’t change for me.”