FOREST PARK, Ga. — About four years ago, Tybee Island was looking pretty nice for Rex Robertson.
After spending the brunt of his high school coaching career in the metro Atlanta area, Robertson and his wife moved to the Georgia resort town with plans to settle into retirement. A case of homesickness for their kids, still in the Atlanta area, changed those plans and triggered a move back to the area.
Robertson settled back into a second stint as offensive coordinator at Meadwocreek High School where he helped head coach Jason Carrera complete one of Georgia high school football’s most impressive program rebirth projects in recent memory.
The offensive-minded coach can tell you exactly how he migrated from assistant coaching stints at Henry County (now McDonough High) to Eagle’s Landing and to his first stint at Meadowcreek.
Rex Robertson’s Resume
- Forest Park graduate, class of 1984.
- Coaching stops include Meadowcreek, Griffin, Eagle’s Landing and Henry County.
- A penchant for high-scoring offenses, Robertson has coached five all-state quarterbacks in 10 years.
But last Friday when he stood in front of a room full of football players from his high school alma mater, Forest Park High, while being introduced as the school’s 30th head football coach, Robertson acknowledged a profound loss of words for the full-circled nature of his coaching journey.
“Shoot, I really don’t know how I got here,” Robertson said with a chuckle, when asked about the trail of events that brought him back to the place he graduated in 1984.
“I interviewed here last year, and I think I almost got it, but they went with the young guy (former coach Gerren Griffin). But this time, (principal) Mr. (Derrick) Manning contacted me, about it, and here we are. It’s just a crazy story.”
Though this is Robertson’s first head coaching gig, he’s no stranger to the Southern Crescent football landscape. And he’s also not afraid of the arduous task of turning a moribund program around.
Robertson’s acumen with offensive X’s and O’s allowed him to assist massive turnaround jobs at several South Metro schools before going to Meadowcreek in Norcross.
He was with Mike Rozier, serving as assistant coach when Rozier took a bad Warhawks program and transformed it into one that recorded back-to-back 10-win seasons and Region 4-AAA titles in 2007 and 2008—a stint that was part of an unprecedented five straight postseason appearances.
“Coach Rozier gave me my first shot while he was head coach there,” Robertson said. “He’s going to be on my staff here at Forest Park as my assistant head coach and defensive coordinator.
From 2012 through 2014, Robertson helped the late coach Joe Teknipp turn a struggling Eagle’s Landing bunch into a high-scoring juggernaut that achieved back-to-back 8-3 seasons with postseason appearances in 2013 and 2014.
Those offenses averaged over 450 total yards per game over the course of two years, and turned former unheralded guys like WR/DB Antonio Gibson (Memphis), QB/DB Bradley Dewberry (Eastern Illinois) and RB/LB Corey Holloway (Western Carolina/Shepherd University) into sought-after college prospects.
At Meadowcreek, he was on the sidelines back in 2017 as the architect of an offense that helped coach Jason Carrera usher the Mustangs into their first playoff appearance since Kevin Maloof did it back in 1989 when Meadowcreek was a Class AA school.
In that 2017 season, Robertson’s offense featured now-West Georgia tailback Chauncey Williams (West Georgia) who set school records with 2,120 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns.
With that kind of resume, it’s clear that Robertson’s return to his old high school stomping grounds didn’t happen solely because of familiarity with Forest Park.
“When I talked with Mr. Manning, his words go along with my experiences,” Robertson said. “He said they want a program builder. Someone to build a program, and someone who knows how to get it done. My background at the three places I’ve been where we’ve made that kind of turnaround shows that I know the formula to make that happen.”
The task of turning around Forest Park football may be his toughest to date.
The Panthers haven’t tasted the postseason since the 7-4 Clint Ashmore squad did it back in 1996. Their last winning season was in 2000 when the Bob Smith-coached team compiled a 7-3 mark, although missing the playoffs.
Since Smith’s tenure ended at the end of the 2003 campaign, Forest Park has seen 12 coaches come and go, with no coach staying longer than two consecutive seasons.
Robertson said he has confidence that the powers that be at Forest Park will give him the patience needed to rebuild one of the state’s losingest programs over the last 20 years.
“They know that it takes a little time,” Robertson said. “And I know that it takes a while, and I’m planning on being here for a while. I’m not stupid, though. I look at the job, and I know we have a lot of doubters, but I’m willing to take the risk. Turning around a program is nothing new for me.”
One of Robertson’s top priorities is drumming up support from the school’s vast alumni base. He’s using the theme, “Revive the Pride,” and he’s excited—and admittedly a bit surprised—at how quickly the renewed enthusiasm has caught on at Clayton County’s second oldest school.
“I’m not really a social media guy, but I new I’d have to join and use it more for this job,” he said. “So when I was able to announce the job last Friday, it was just crazy how many hundreds of messages of support I received. I had people as far back as my first grade class wishing me support.
“When I met the kids, the first thing I told them was my history. How I grew up here and played here, but I said, ‘Ya’ll aren’t interested in that. You don’t care that I went to Forest Park, but Forest Park’s got alumni all over this country that’s excited and wanting to see this program excel, and we’re going to work to get them back here and help bring back some school spirit. I’m gonna be able to bring the old generation to the new generation.”
What Robertson does know about the kids he’s inheriting is that they want to win.
The class of 2021—next year’s seniors—will enter the 2020-21 season with a 7-23 record.
“You can tell that they’re hungry,” he said. “They remind me of some of the kids that we had back at Henry County and Eagle’s Landing and Meadowcreek. People might not think so, but there’s talent here. They just need someone who can help them believe in themselves and in the program.”
Part of instilling that belief will be Robertson’s emphasis on constructing a program that prepares athletes to excel in college. He told Forest Park football fans and enthusiasts to get ready for a heavy diet of 7-on-7 tournaments, 11-on-11 camps, coaching clinics and “any and everything else that can make us successful.”
“Any that’s relevant as it relates to high school football, we’re going to be present,” he said. “Everywhere I’ve been, we’ve been able to not only get guys to excel in high school, but we’ve put a lot of guys in college. That doesn’t happen by accident. There’s a formula to that.”
Robertson describes his offensive philosophy as “a lot of fun.”
“I’ve had the reputation of being a guy who loves to throw the ball all around the yard,” he said. “And I don’t mind having that reputation. That’s the kind of offense that kids nowadays want to run. And it’s what helps get them ready for the stuff they’ll see in college.”
But he doesn’t mind pounding the ball in the run game either. See that aforementioned 2017 Meadowcreek squad’s team rushing stats.
“Bottom line is, we’re going to be balanced,” he said. “We’re going to run an offensive scheme that will be able to fit to the talent we have here each year. Sometimes that changes and fluctuates over time, so it’s important to have a system that can adjust to your personnel.”
Robertson said he’d finish out the year at Meadowcreek where he’s also the Mustangs’ head baseball coach—although that season, and all things high school athletics, has been put on hold due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
He’s hoping things will get back to normal by May 16. That’s when Forest Park’s spring football game is, coinciding with a special ceremony with former Panther and Pittsburgh Steelers star, Hines Ward. It’ll be the first glimpse fans will get at what Robertson believes will be a new and improved Forest Park program.
Robertson, 53, is under no visions of grandeur, however, regarding the amount of effort and time it’ll take to push Forest Park back its winning ways of the 1990s. But he makes it clear that he’s planning to be around for the long haul.
“I’m not going to leave here until the job is done,” Robertson said. “I don’t have anywhere else I want to go. I’m looking forward to putting in the work, building it right and having fun in the process. I’m planning on being here a while.”
It may not be Tybee Island, but for Robertson, Forest Park is definitely home.