Coaches are often the unsung heroes of great programs. Great teams are most frequently tied to great leaders who imprint their character on the individual players. Here we recognize the local coaches who have been highly successful for many years in both endeavors: winning games and playing in the postseason, and creating lasting bonds with their players. As of 2021, 30 coaches comprise this list.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This list consists of coaches in the BLITZ-era (2009-present) only in our coverage area (see footer of website). (Alpha Order)
Brian Allison is one of the greats, coaching 25 seasons as a head coach at two schools. He was at Union for two spans (’96-’01) and again from ’09-’20. In 2018, he guided the Panthers to his 100th career win at Union, and has 146 total entering 2021. His career also includes a stay at Winder Barrow from ’02-’07, where he won 25 games. He had 121 wins at Union.
He’s made 9 playoff trips, and in 2019 won his first-ever playoff game in getting Union to the Sweet 16. Allison has coached 15 All-State players. Following the 2020 season, Allison resigned and took the same position at East Forsyth.
Frank Barden was only at Stephens County for a short time (2014-17), but went 29-15 at his third stop. All told, he currently has, prior to 2021, 202 total wins in 27 seasons. He spent two years at Pickens (1994-95), 18 at Cartersville (’96-’13), four at Stephens (’14-’17), and now at St. Francis (’18-Present). The bulk of his wins came at Cartersville (154), including seven region titles and a State Championship (1999, Cartersville, 15-0 record). He led Cartersville to a region title from ’98-’01 (four straight), and another three there in ’06, ’12, and ’13.
Barden has coached more than 40 All-State players in his time, including an AJC Super 11 player at Stephens County, lineman Ben Cleveland. His time with the Indians was short, but he got them to the playoffs in three of four seasons, going 1-3 in such games. Barden is 12th among active coaches in wins.
Sam Borg has been finding success everywhere he’s gone for nearly 20 years, coaching in both basketball and primarily in cross country. Borg has coached 6 years at West Hall (2006-11), 7 at White County (2011-18), and 3-and-counting at North Hall (2018-Present). In cross country, he has coached 14 podium teams (top 4), exactly 5 at each West Hall and White County, and 4 so far at North Hall. That includes coaching currently 5 individual state champions (Jenna Gearing/White County 2x; Devan Crow/North Hall; Andrew Jones/North Hall; Caylee Wagner/North Hall). He’s coached multiple All-State individuals at each stop. To date, he also has 11 Region Championships (6 at White [all girls], 5 at North Hall [2 boys, 3 girls]).
In basketball, he was the head assistant at West Hall for a program that won 126 games, a Lanierland Championship, and had 3 Sweet 16 runs. He took that experience to White County, where he was the head coach for 96 wins, 5 consecutive winning seasons, and 3 trips to state. He progressed the program from 6 wins his first season to 10, 17, 14, 17, 17, and finished with 15.
Don Brock has made a name for Lumpkin County girls soccer. The head coach headed up the Lady Indians program since its inception, at the close of the 2021 season, has tallied north of 137 wins. The program really took a turn in 2014, when the Lady Indians made state every year through the rest of the decade, and were surely going to do the same in 2020 had COVID-19 not happened. From 2014-21, Brock’s record was 96-36-6, complete with 4 Sweet 16s, one quarterfinal, and one semifinal finish. The program won a region title twice (2015, 2021) and were ranked as high as #1 that season in the state, and were each year since ranked inside the top 10. Brock has more soccer in front of him. The coaching legend iconically sported a ponytail for much of his time on the sidelines at Lumpkin.
Buster Brown was only at White County for a few short seasons, but his resume is impressive to say the least. He came to the Lady Warriors basketball program with 502 wins, and after three seasons, left White County with a career total of 542. Brown successfully got the Lady Warriors to the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade when he guided the girls there in the ’12-’13 season, which included a #7 state ranking.
Prior to White County, he was at Lakeview from 2000-10, and got the girls team there to the Final 4 in ’04-’05. He coached for more than 35 years, which included a brief stint at Truett McConnell University.
John Brown was a legendary coach before he ever came to Georgia. Before coming to White County, he coached for 35 years at University Christian in Jacksonville, Florida, compiling a 645-274-3 record with three state championships and 10 Final Four appearances in baseball. He was inducted into the Florida Coaches Hall of Fame in 2000.
He came to White County and took over the reins of the baseball and softball program. He won 110 games for the Warriors baseball team from ’08-’14, giving him a grand total of 781 wins as a baseball coach in 42 seasons, third-most all-time.
In coaching the Lady Warriors softball team from ’08- ’10, Brown made White County a State Champion in his final season over softball after going 30-6 and a share of the Region Title as well. He closed with 75 softball wins to go with his 755 baseball wins, earning him over 800 total victories.
Thad Burgess has coached 20-plus seasons and has 438 career wins going into the 2021-22 season at Oconee County. He spent a large portion of that career at Dawson County after coming from Alabama (he played basketball at Auburn University), where he was Alabama’s youngest head coach in Class 6A, at 24 years old.
He has coached both boys and girls basketball for over 20 years, and more than 10 as a head baseball coach, and another 18 years as an assistant football coach. He has a fiery passion for the kids and the game of basketball especially. That was often evident at Dawson County, where he guided the Tigers program to its first-ever Elite 8 in ’11-’12, and tallied over 150 wins. He took the boys to the playoffs seven times in his stay in Dawsonville, including punching the first playoff ticket in over 30 years when they got there in 2007. From ’09-’10 until the ’13-’14 season, the Tigers enjoyed 104 wins, a #1-state ranking, a region title, and four 20-win seasons.
Burgess departed Dawson after the ’15-’16 season to make the move to Oconee County, where he has continued to find success.
Gene Cathcart has had a stellar track record for coaching on the gridiron. He began that journey at Habersham Central from 2003-08, and continues it with his current stint at Jefferson (2017-Present). Entering the 2021 season, he has 147 head coaching wins, complete with a state title (SC), 4 region championships, and 13 state playoff berths. At Habersham Central, he went 40-27 before leaving for Greenwood (SC), where he was 58-12 in five seasons (2009-13), and then Seneca (SC), going 9-3 in 2014. He worked as an assistant coach at Jefferson the next two seasons before returning to the helm in 2017. He is 40-9 in his time over the Dragons program, and fresh off a 2020 state runner-up finish. Cathcart took Hab Central to the quarterfinals twice, won a state title with Greenwood and took them to the title game two other times and quarterfinals once, and 3 times has led Jefferson to the quarterfinals round or deeper.
Mike Cleveland finished off his coaching career (for now) at Banks County following the 2019-20 season in which he led the Leopards to their second-ever Elite 8. He coached for nine seasons at Banks County, and won 171 games from 2011-20. That includes five 20-win seasons, six straight playoff runs, four regular season or tournament region titles, and five Sweet 16 or deeper runs. He continued to reload his program, producing five Leopards who scored over 1,000 career points (Austin Venable, Zac Orr, Zez Steeple, Kahmal Wiley, Carl Cleveland). His career as a head coach gives him well over 200 wins, and he even coached girls basketball at the varsity level (Hart County).
Tim Cokely hasn’t been at White County very long, but he fits this mold very easily with 176 career wins between White County, Colquitt County, and GAC, and 17 seasons in the state of Florida racking up the Ws. Cokely has made a splash early for the Warriors too, as his first year he took over a 1-9 program and guided them to a stunning 7-4 turnaround in year one, making the playoffs.
Cokely overall has 25 seasons of experience, 16 of those years making the playoffs. He won six state titles in Florida, including four straight from ’98-’01. He has coached 10 10-win seasons, and has gone 22-20 in 4 seasons at White County heading into the 2021 season.
DeeDee Dillard has won 339 games at Rabun County and no sign of letting up on that anytime soon entering the 2021-22 season. The Lady Cats under her guidance have gone to the playoffs in 14 out of 15 seasons, reaching the State Title Game in ’16-17, the Elite 8 six other times (’08-’09, ’09-’10, ’10-’11, ’15-’16, ’17-’18, ’18-’19), and the Sweet 16 3 other times than that (’12-’13, ’13-’14, ’20-’21) and three times ending in the first round.
Dillard has pocketed 9 regular season or region tournament titles. Perhaps what is more impressive, aside from her stellar basketball IQ, is her ability to lock and reload a roster despite churning a high turnover of talent year after year.
David Dowse currently brought to Lumpkin County a 241-142 career record across 14 seasons prior to coming to Dahlonega. He coached at McIntosh and Grayson, heading up the girls basketball teams there. At Lumpkin, he has adjusted his career W-L mark to 307-182.
He turned around a Lumpkin program that never had more than 7 wins in a season going back to 2006, and immediately in 2017-18 got them to 9 wins. What came after were seasons of 17, 15, and 25 wins, including two state playoff runs and a Final 4 appearance (’20-21) and a #1 state ranking, along with a region championship (2020-21). All told, Dowse has made the playoffs 11 times heading into the 2021-22 season.
Eric Herrick has coached 17 seasons over primarily girls basketball, and also has coached boys. In that span, he’s accumulated a 345-120 career record heading into the 2021-22 season. His stops include 2 seasons at White County, 4 at Chattahoochee, 8 at North Forsyth, and 2 at Dawson (including one season as boys coach).
His resume includes 10 20-win seasons, 5 region tournament and 5 regular season region titles, and 4 undefeated region records. He’s won the region tourney with 3 different schools – Chattahoochee, North Forsyth (3x) and with Dawson (boys).
He has 14 state tournament appearances, which includes 3 Final 4 runs (one at Chattahoochee, 2 at North Forsyth), 4 Elite 8 runs, and 9 Sweet 16 runs.
Alan Hogan has been a mainstay in the sport of tennis at Lumpkin County. He’s had a career that spans decades, going from Campbell of Fairburn (’80-’81 & ’84-’90), Creekside (’91-’01), Northview (’02-’08), and Lumpkin County (’09-Present). He has well over 400 wins in his illustrious career, and has had ONLY two losing seasons in all his years as head coach. He has coached three state championship teams (’06-’08 at Northview). He’s had 4 teams reach the Final 4 or further, 5 times going to the Elite 8 or further (once at Lumpkin in 2016), and tons of Sweet 16 runs (including 4 at Lumpkin in ’15, ’16, ’17, and ’21). Hogan has guided his programs to 8 region titles (’89, ’90, ’05, ’06, ’07, ’08, ’16, ’21), and has been named Region Coach of the Year in 1989 and 2006, as well as the Gainesville Times Coach of the Year in 2011.
Tommy Knight has made two stops at Jefferson (’94-’96) and again from 2004-Present. He’s racked up exactly 430 wins (entering 2022) for the Dragons in that span, including winning a State Championship in 2018. In his 20 seasons, he’s gotten the Dragons to the playoffs 16 times, also finishing as State Runner-Up in 2015, and making the quarterfinals twice (’94, ’08) and the semifinals one other time (’07).
Knight has pocketed 10 region championships, including four in a row from 2007-10, and combined with his other coaching stops in his career (one of which was at Sumter HS for four years) he has nearly 500 career wins. Between his Jefferson stays, he was head coach at LaGrange College and Southern Polytechnic State University.
Jed Lacey wound up leaving us far too soon in a tragic car accident in the summer of 2017. There’s no questioning his passion and zeal for the game of soccer, and for the kids he coached. Lacey built Dawson County into a soccer powerhouse program for both the boys and girls.
Lacey guided the Tigers to over 100 wins, making the state playoffs every year from 2010-17. This included a pair of Elite 8 trips (’15-’16), and a Sweet 16 finish (’14), as well as a region title (’14). His boys’ teams were almost every year ranked in the top-10, rising as high as #2 in the state.
On the girls’ side, Lacey guided the Lady Tigers to 95 wins from 2011-17, getting them to the playoffs every year from 2012-17. His girls advanced to the Elite 8 in 2012, 2015, and 2016, and finished in the Sweet 16 in 2014. He garnered a pair of region titles (’12, ’16), and saw the girls ranked as high as #2 in the state. Each year from 2012-17, the girls were ranked in the top 5 in class 3A. All told, Lacey finished north of 200 career wins, three region championships, 14 playoff runs, five state quarterfinal appearances, and dozens of college players developed.
Don Ledbetter came to Habersham Central for the 2007-08 season, bringing with him an already-storied career as a head coach. He previously led the Seneca (SC) boys basketball program for 22 years (1980-2003) prior to his 10 at Habersham Central (’07-’17). In his time in South Carolina, he tallied 6 region titles (tournament titles in ’83, ’88, ’90, ’91), being named Region Coach of the Year in 1983 and 1991.
When coming to take over the Raiders’ basketball program, he led in more than just wins and losses, but in being a positive influence of young men. At Habersham, he tallied some 100 victories, including a regular season region title (second in school history), giving him 387 total wins between South Carolina and Georgia. He coached more than 30 All-Region players and 7 All-State players. Overall, he had 7 region titles, 18 state playoff trips, and 4 Sweet 16 or further runs.
Jeannie Ledford made Towns County a State Champion…exactly five times! It didn’t exactly happen overnight though. Ledford spent years building relationships, pushing kids to be their best, and it all paid off. After finishing 17th and 18th at state in girls cross country, and not a single boy repping either year in 2010 and 2011, 2012 began a five-year historic run for Ledford and Towns County.
In each season from 2012-16, Ledford hoisted the 1A Public State Championship trophy for the girls, and closed her coaching career with a 3rd-place finish in 2017. The boys also hit new heights, and it started with an individual representing in 2012. By 2013, the boys came in 6th at state, and were Runner-Up finishers in 2014, 3rd in 2015, 6th in 2016, and 11th in 2017. In short, Ledford created a cross country dynasty that included the five state titles, four area titles, and countless memories and lives impacted. She retired from coaching following the 2017 season.
Kendall Love is a prodigy of Doug Thurmond (below) as a former Jefferson assistant coach. He took over the Commerce program in the mid 2000s and it’s been booming ever since. After a 7th place finish at state the first year (’06’-07), he improved the program to back-to-back 4th-place finishes, followed by a few more years in the top five. What came next was epic.
The Tigers’ wrestling program won state 6 years straight in duals and 7 years straight in traditionals before the 2020-21 season saw the Tigers come in 2nd and 3rd, respectively. The 6 straight in duals and 7 straight traditionals gives Love 13 State Championships, and dozens of individual state champs. This train isn’t stopping anytime soon.
Sid Maxwell is a 27-year head coach, who has a brilliant football mind and a running total of 176 wins (20th among active coaches entering 2021). His coaching stops include 15 years at Sequoyah (’94-’08), 5 years at Lambert (’09-’13), and 7 years at Dawson County (’15-Present). He tallied 97 wins at his first stop, 31 at his second, and 48 wins to date for the Tigers. He guided Dawson to its first-ever Quarterfinal in ’15 (he also took Sequoyah to one in ’04), and has gone 12-17 in 17 playoff runs overall, and has two region titles (’03 at Sequoyah, ’15 at Dawson). Maxwell led Dawson to its first 10-win season in school history in 2018.
Maxwell has coached some 25 All-State players, and has made it very easy for his players to buy in to his philosophy. He builds character in his guys, and is a player’s coach. The Tigers love to play for him, and he’s shown many times that he puts the guys in a position to succeed, and once they have put in the work, he can trust them to do their job.
Tom S. McFerrin was a head football coach for 34 seasons in Georgia and 38 seasons overall. In Georgia, he compiled a record of 317-84-4 (78.77%), one of only 13 coaches to win 300 or more games in the state. His 317 wins is ranked ninth in the state, tied with Bill Chappell (317), behind Barney Hester (340), Ronnie Jones (329), and Luther Welsh (323), and ahead of Wayman Creel (312), Nick Hyder (302), and Rodney Walker (300).
His winning percentage of 78.77% ranks 18th among coaches with at least 100 wins in the state. He won 12 region championships and two state championships. McFerrin is best known for his ability to win at multiple schools. He is the only Georgia head coach to lead four GHSA schools to the state finals, five to the state semifinals and seven to the state quarterfinals. He is the only Georgia coach to lead seven GHSA schools to region championships. He is one of 14 coaches in the GHSA to win state titles at two schools (1995 Elbert County, 2012 Jefferson). At Jefferson (2009-12), he went 39-9 before retiring following a State Championship that season.
Overall, he won 341 games, and had 18 10-win seasons. He coached at Lithonia (’68-’70), Forest Park (’71), Sullivan Central (TN) (’72-’75), Peachtree (’76-’82), Southeast Whitfield (’84), Tucker (’86-’89), Elbert County (’90-’96), South Gwinnett (’98-’04), and Jefferson (’09-’12). McFerrin was inducted into the Georgia Athletic Coaches Hall of Fame in 2014.
Jim Melton completed 19 years as a head coach at Towns County. He handed over the reins of the girls basketball program following the 2016-17 season. He closed his career with 347 wins against 204 losses. That success included four region titles (’09, ’11, ’12, ’13), and led to 15 state playoff runs across 19 seasons.
The Lady Indians under Melton’s guidance made three Final Fours (’00, ’08, ’13) and two other Elite 8s (’09, ’14). He had nine 20-win seasons, and four 25-plus win seasons, and was named Region Coach of the Year on four occasions. He still resides in Hiawassee and is the acting Athletic Director at Towns County.
Dwayne Sapp has made a living out of earning Ws. He’s done it everywhere he’s been. Entering the 2022 season, Sapp has 506 victories and counting. He has been at Dawson County since 2016, leading the Tigers to a pair of playoff runs, including a Sweet 16 in ’16 and back-to-back 20-win seasons in ’16-’17. He won his 500th game during the 2021 season.
Sapp’s baseball mind is up there with the best, and he took over a brand new North Oconee program in 2004, and guided it to the postseason in all 11 years he was there from ’04-’15.
Lee Shaw has had nothing short of a storied career that has spanned 24 seasons as a head coach and includes 168 wins. He spent 5 seasons at White County (’95-99), 10 seasons at Flowery Branch (’02-11), 7 years at Rabun (’12-18), and now one at Lakeview (’20-Present).
Shaw has won six region titles – including five straight from 2014-18 at Rabun, and has coached 42 all-state players. He has coached a playoff team every year 2005-18; 2020 (15 straight trips), and recorded 10 10-win seasons. He reached the State Championship game twice (’08 for Flowery Branch, ’17 for Rabun County), and made the Quarterfinals or deeper eight times (four at Flowery Branch and four at Rabun).
Shaw is a no-nonsense coach, who leads a very structured and tight routine for his players and coaches. It is all business, and his recipe for success hinged on the team uniting as a family, which is evident on the sidelines and on and off the field. At the time of his initial retirement in 2018, Shaw was among the top 25 active coaches in wins. After taking a year off in 2019, he “got the itch” to coach again and landed the gig at Lakeview Academy. He led the Lions to an unreal turnaround, taking a 2-win team to a 5-win, playoff team in just one season.
Brady Sigler had an extraordinary career in track and field as well as cross country. He was a head track & field coach for 16 years, winning 6 state titles, 6 state runners-up, and was an assistant for another title and 3 other runners-up.
His stops included Columbia from 1980-83 (Region and State Champs in ’80 & ’83; Region Champs & State RU in ’81 & ’82), Elbert County from 1992-98 (Region Champs every year; State Champs in ’95, ’96, ’97 & State RU in ’94 & ’98), Washington-Wilkes from 2000-01 (Region Champs twice, State RU in ’01), and Jefferson in 2018-19 (Region Champs twice, State Title in XC). He has coached well over 30 individual state champions, including 5 high-point trophy winners. All told, he coached at Columbia (6 yrs), Clarke Central (2), Madison County (4), Elbert County (9), Washington-Wilkes (3), Greene County (3), Oconee County (1), Cedar Shoals (2), North Oconee (4), East Jackson (1), and Jefferson (3).
Jeff Steele coached 21 years as a head basketball coach and tallied more than 320 wins. At Lumpkin County (’15-16-’19-20), he won 53 games and made the playoffs in 3 out of 5 seasons. All told, the one-time Johnson coach who spent 16 seasons there, has 5 region championships, 5 Sweet 16 trips, and 4 Elite 8 runs.
He got the most out of his players, and was not one who overreacted or lost his patience. You could find him on game nights appearing calm and collected no matter what the circumstance. Steele’s immediate impact to Lumpkin was incredible, as he got the Indians quickly into a top-10 ranking (as high as #3) and a 20-win season, the best in school history. Among his top seasons also includes a 30-1 year at Johnson that ended in the quarterfinals after taking a third consecutive region title and winning one of two Lanierland titles. Steele surpassed 300 wins in February 2017 with a win over Fannin, and retired after the 2019-20 season.
Jessica Stewart coached a dozen years at Union County for the Lady Panthers softball program before departing after the 2017 season. She won 267 games from 2006-17. She got Union County to the State Finals in 2010 after a dream 32-4-1 season. The Lady Panthers advanced to the playoffs in 10 of her 12 seasons, and aside from the State Title game run, made the Elite 8 three other times (’06, ’09, ’15), the Sweet 16 three more times (’07, ’14, ’16), and Round 1 three additional times.
In Stewart’s era at Union, the girls were ranked in the top-ten in all but two seasons, and she coached numerous All-State players and next-level college athletes.
Steve Sweat’s love for basketball and making life-long relationships with his players kept him in the game for decades. Following the 2019-20 season, Sweat racked up exactly 567 wins as a head basketball coach for Dawson County, West Hall, and a brief stint at Berkmar. Among his 30-plus years of coaching, Sweat coached at Dawson in two stays (’84-’94; ’06-20), and had a 12-year stay from ’94-’06 at West Hall.
In Sweat’s time, he coached two undefeated regular seasons (one at West Hall, one at Dawson County in ’14-15), and appeared in the State Championship three times (twice at Dawson in ’12-13 and ’90-91). Sweat’s resume includes closing his career with 8 straight playoff runs for the Lady Tigers, and a pair of regular season or tournament region titles in his recent stint in Dawsonville. His Christ-like persona and family-first mentality rubbed off on his players, which included kids of players he coached years ago. He retired officially in April 2020.
Doug Thurmond is a legend on the mat, coaching from ’87-’95 at Johnson and ’96-Present at Jefferson, where he has amassed well over 500 career wins in over 30 seasons.
His resume includes coaching over 100 state champion wrestlers, and was inducted into the Georgia Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2009. At Jefferson, he has won 20 Traditional State Championships and 19 Dual State Championships prior to the 2021-22 year.
Ric Wallace currently has 191 career wins heading into the 2022 season over the Habersham Central boys soccer program. That mark includes 10 double-digit win seasons, seven region championships, and 12 state playoff trips, where he has an 12-12 overall record.
Wallace’s region record is stunning (98-37), and he guided the Raiders to region titles six years in a row (’06-’11) and again in 2019. Perhaps his greatest season was in 2007, when Habersham went 21-1, winning the region title and advancing to the Final 4, earning a #4 ranking and #10 NSCAA Regional Ranking. Under his leadership, the Raiders made a pair of Semifinals (’07, ’10), a Quarterfinal (’15), and 4 Sweet 16s (’09, ’10, ’19, ’21). In his 15 years as a head coach, his team has failed to make the playoffs only three times.
IN THE FUTURE….There are many on the cusp for future consideration, including the following. There are also many young coaches who will be added as time proves their success.
- BANKS: William Foster, Jim McKinney, Steve Shedd, Jerry King, Kelby Cronic
- COMMERCE: Chas Hardy, Steve Cotrell, Michael Brown, Mark Hale
- DAWSON: Jimmy Pruett, Chad Pittman, Jeff Lee
- HABERSHAM: Lindsay Herrin, Chris Akridge, Stephanie Thomas, John Hood
- JEFFERSON: Greg Brown, Kacie Bostwick, Brittany Lawrence, Molly McCarty
- LUMPKIN: Brian Matthews
- RABUN: Jaybo Shaw, Tim Bragg, Bryan Getty
- STEPHENS: Donny Williams, Greg McCall, Chad Bridges
- TALLULAH FALLS: Mark Wilcox, Scott Neal, Brandy Corbett
- TOWNS: Rob Benson
- UNION: Tim Hunter, Jackie Hughes, Paige Dyer
- WHITE: Mark Carroll, Jarvis Davenport