By Gabriel Stovall
FAYETTEVILLE, Ga. — Jamie Aull certainly isn’t one to shy away from honest self evaluation.
So you need not ask around to get an accurate assessment of the difference in Aull’s coaching chops between head coaching gigs.
The new Our Lady of Mercy coach is wearing the chief headset once again. The first time he did it was back in 2009 when he took over the Mount Zion program after Jarrett Laws left to start up the Drew Titans.
The biggest difference between Aull then and now? Maturity.
“Definitely, my first time around was definitely a learning experience,” Aull said. “I’ll tell anyone who asks me. I wasn’t ready for (Mount Zion). I was 27 years old when I got it. I wasn’t mature enough.”
Aull took over the Bulldogs program at a time when Mount Zion wasn’t too far removed from the program’s glory days with coach Jackie Green. In fact, Aull was on Laws’ staff for both years of his tenure, and helped craft the high octane offenses Laws became known for, particularly at Drew.
Those Laws-coached Bulldog squads found the postseason two out of three seasons, including an 8-5 2008 campaign that ended with a one point loss to Class AAAA runner up Marist.
Aull found success his first year, going 8-3 and losing in the first round of the 2009 playoffs to a solid Westside-Macon team. But the next two years were tough. Mount Zion officially went 1-9 in 2010 due to having to forfeit its first five wins of the season. It followed with a 3-7 year in 2011.
After that, Aull rejoined Laws at Drew and followed him to Griffin and Our Lady as his offensive coordinator. He found himself beginning to settle into life as the No. 2 guy on the sidelines.
“I was almost to that point to where I resigned myself to being an assistant,” Aull said. “And that was fine with me, because I was happy doing what I was doing. I enjoy coaching football, especially offensive football.”
But when an unexpected, last minute change took Laws from the Class A Fayetteville school to Class AAAA Salem, the Our Lady of Mercy administrators made it clear that they wanted to keep Aull — and his offense.
“They asked me, ‘Are you really the guy who runs that offense and calls the plays,’” he said. “They didn’t want the kids to have to learn a new system so close to the season. They felt good about keeping me as head coach and keeping the train running.”
And Aull said he’s geeked about the pieces of that train.
The Bobcats return five starters on offense and six on defense, and are looking forward to diversifying the offensive attack after operating out of the wing-t during legendary coach Mike Earwood’s five-year tenure at the school.
Earwood retired after 29 total seasons as a head coach.
“The kids are excited,” Aull said. “After running the wing-t, they’re really anxious to air it out more this season.”
Aull’s offense has taken on a bit of local legend status over the last few years — particularly after he and Laws perfected it into juggernaut status at Drew.
Current Drew coach Dorwyn Lyles — also an assistant on the Drew staff while Laws and Aull were there — ran it, with his own tweaks of course, to near perfect, as the Titans boasted one of the state’s most prolific scoring offenses in 2015.
When you ask Aull what he calls the offense, he chuckles. Apparently he gets asked about it often.
“Anytime someone asks me what kind of offense we run, I say, ‘spread multiple,’” he said. “It sounds broad, but we do a lot of stuff. But to be honest, if you want to see it on a Saturday, watch Clemson and Auburn. It’s a lot of zone scheme stuff, gap scheme in the run game. Some run-pass option stuff. We find mismatches in the secondary and in the drop back passing game. We try to go high-low and get people down the field.
“The whole point is to spread you from the bottom of the numbers to the bottom of the numbers, to make you defend it all. That’s difficult to do.”
Aull said the concept was birthed out of frustration and a bit of embarrassment during a two-game stretch while he was an assistant with Laws at Mount Zion.
A 33-17 win over Stockbridge — when the Bulldogs didn’t spend much time with a quarterback under center — was sandwiched between shutout losses to North Clayton and city-rival Jonesboro while utilizing a more traditional attack.
The latter was the last straw.
“(Coach Laws) and I started tinkering with this scheme about midway through that 2008 season,” he said. “We were running a pro style, multiple formation offense. Under center, power I, inside and outside zone. Things you’d see on a Sunday. Every now and then it would get rolling, but from week to week we’d get stoned. And after Jonesboro beat us and shut us out in a game we thought we should’ve won, we finally said, ‘to hell with it,’ and went shotgun for pretty much the rest of the year.”
Mount Zion went 4-2 the rest of the way, losing by one point to both Ola and Marist, but never really having trouble moving the ball and scoring thereafter.
The scheme has evolved since then. And when Aull got to Drew, he said Laws brought him up to speed with the shifts and tweaks he’d added.
They perfected it there and found more success at Griffin — particularly in year one of their two-season stint. And now, with a cast of young, fast athletes like quarterbacks Javon Henderson and Garrison Hand, tailbacks Caleb Presley and Delmarco Hodges and a promising freshman in Zee Pool, Aull said he can’t wait to see what his new team can become while running his old offense.
You can easily detect the enthusiasm in his voice, in fact — perhaps equal parts an anxiety to prove to his kids and to himself what kind of coach he can be.
“One thing about it is, each place I’ve been since I left Mount Zion, I’ve learned a bit more about what needs to be done to make sure Friday nights go the way you want them to,” he said. “As a younger coach, you think it just happens, but it doesn’t. Hours of behind the scenes stuff happens before you even talk to a kid on Monday.
“I’m excited for this. I’m excited for the kids. I know I wasn’t ready for that first gig. I didn’t think I did a bad job, per se, but I know I’m a better coach now. If Mount Zion hired me today, I’d be a much better coach for them than I was back then.”