First-year Griffin High head coach Rusty Easom has put the finishing touches on his coaching staff less than a week into his official tenure, which started on June 1.
Approved by the Griffin-Spalding County Board of Education to be the team’s new head coach on May 18, Easom worked at a furious pace in the interim to help the Bears make up for lost preparation time going into the summer session.
The Bears retained several coaches from last season’s staff, including defensive coordinator Ryan Andrews as well as assistants Robert Martin (safeties) and Neal Ball (wide receivers).
“It’s a new day, a new staff,” said Easom. “They have all jumped on board and said we just want to do what’s best for the kids, what’s best for the program.”
In addition to retaining those coaches, the Bears brought in Lowndes County offensive coordinator Ryan Nelson and co-offensive line coach Mike Campos from Miami-Dade, where he was a line coach and an offensive coordinator, to run the Bears’ spread attack on offense.
Griffin has also brought former Griffin Bears Toby Jackson (defensive line), Bobby Rainey (running backs) and Tyler Ogletree (co-offensive line) on board this season to serve as assistant coaches.
Jackson, who played on the Dallas Cowboys during preseason before being injured several years back and worked as a defensive line coach and strength and conditioning coach with Easom last year at Rutland, was the state Defensive Player of the Year during his time at Griffin, while Rainey, who set a multitude of school records at Western Kentucky before embarking on an NFL career from 2012-2017, was a fixture at GHS where he helped lead the Bears to the semifinals in 2005; and Ogletree, who played at Jacksonville State where he later served as a graduate assistant, was also a fixture on the line for Griffin.
“When you had the influence and impact on them and they want to come back and work with you and continue to be a part of the program in a different aspect, I feel like that’s a great honor,” Easom said of brining back so many former Bears. “I feel like we’ve done our job, like we did our job as coaches when they were here as players.”
“Not only do they want to come back and just talk to the team or do this (or that), but they want to come back and give back and make sure this next generation has the same experience and is a part of the same kind of culture when they were here,” added Easom, who himself coached at Griffin 10 years, including the last seven as defensive coordinator, before leaving to serve as the defensive coordinator for five seasons at East Coweta before taking a head coaching position at Rutland the last two seasons in Macon.
Easom had no problem retaining Andrews, who also applied for the head coaching position at Griffin.
The Bears will remain in a 4-2-5 defense this season.
“We’ll do some things a little bit different frontwise,” said Easom, who noted Andrews is a good coordinator and an excellent secondary coach.
The two have talked extensively about this year’s defense.
“You know I watched them play during the spring,” added Easom, “and I said, ‘I think the way we create a lot of pressure up front is not necessarily having to send linebackers to make a fifth guy, but doing different stunts and fronts in games with the front four because you don’t lose a guy in coverage any more. And with the talent that we have on our defensive line, that’s an easy way for us to create some pressure without sacrificing anything and then if you want to really bring it (on a given play), you can still bring a fifth guy from anywhere you want to bring it.’ ”
In the end, Andrews is unequivocally the defensive coordinator this season.
“It’s just basically blending and putting together our ideas … and putting our heads together and coming up with the best plan,” said Easom. “It has been a good relationship so far. We actually were talking back and forth last night about some things with the fronts … what you can and can’t do in terms of if you’re going play this coverage … .”
On offense, Griffin will continue to employ a spread attack.
“Spread is spread,” said Easom, “it’s only a handful of running plays and passing concepts — it’s just figuring out which players fits the personnel you have.”
Easom is extremely high on Nelson.
“Quarterback and just an offensive mind,” Easom said of what Nelson’s specialty is. “He kind of sees it from that perspective too, the way I think about defenses — this is our system, this is what we do, this is how we’re installing it, everything has a rhyme or a reason, everything has a structure and a systematic way of installing it and a systematic way of practicing it so it that it‘s easy for the kids and … they can play fast.”
Lowndes defeated Griffin 45-6 last season — in a game that was 38-0 at the half and 45-0 in the third quarter — with Nelson as the Vikings offensive coordinator.
“We snapped the ball like 70 times in a 40-minute period — that’s ripping it,” Easom added of a practice earlier this week at Griffin with Nelson running the Bears offense.
Easom also brought in Xzavier Coggins, who also played at Griffin and currently coaches soccer at GHS, to be the team’s specialist coach this year.