Jeff Herron says he understands why fans might’ve been thrown for a loop Wednesday when they heard the news.
Herron, who led Camden County to three state championships and national prominence in Georgia’s highest classification in his 13 seasons in Kingsland, was announced as the new head football coach at Class A private school Prince Avenue Christian in Bogart.
Reached by phone, Herron said his wife asked the same questions: Are you ready to leave the spotlight of the highest classification and the national renown that Camden has earned for a school of fewer than 500 students? Won’t you miss it?
‘’While I’m not going to tell you that stuff doesn’t have some importance, it’s never been as important as some think,’’ Herron said. ‘’I just like coaching kids and the relationship you have with your players and coaches. That’s why I got in the business. It’s going to be less players [at Prince Avenue], but that gives me a chance to build even closer relationships. That’s more important to me at this stage of life than playing on ESPN.’’
With that, Herron’s wife, Inka, was all on board. Their daughter Brittany lives in the Athens area. She is expecting her first child any day. It will be the Herrons’ first grandchild. Herron also will be closer to his father, Thomas, in Virginia.
Herron, 52, won Class AAAAA titles at Camden in 2003, 2008 and 2009 and was 158-18 at Camden on the Georgia coast. His overall record is 242-45.
In 1999, Herron led Oconee County to its only title and is one of 13 coaches in state history to lead two different schools to football state championships. No coach has won state titles at three schools.
Prince Avenue’s campus, originally in Athens, is located in Oconee County. Herron also was coach of nearby Cedar Shoals in Athens from 1990 to 1993.
Prince Avenue was 11-3 in 2012 and lost in the Class A private championship game to Eagle’s Landing Christian. Prince Avenue started varsity football in 2005.
Former coach Mark Farriba resigned earlier this year to return to his alma mater, Stratford Academy in Macon.
Herron said he plans no changes on the coaching staff. Prince Avenue defensive coordinator is Richard Bell, a former defensive coordinator at Georgia. Herron coached Bell’s son, Murray, while at Cedar Shoals some 20 years ago.
‘’I’m hopeful that all of them will stay, and they’ll all be given that opportunity,’’ Herron said. “They have a great staff as witnessed by their success.’’
Herron is not the first coach to leave a top program in the highest classification for something smaller.
Blair Armstrong left Peachtree Ridge, the 2006 state champion, for Banks County. Tim McFarlin, whose Roswell team shared that 2006 state title, retired briefly, re-emerged to help build the football program at Class A King’s Ridge and now coaches at Class AAA Blessed Trinity.
‘’There’s no question that a program this big [at Camden] that I am more of a CEO,’’ Herron said. “Having a smaller environment hopefully will help me do things that I love. But I’m not saying that I’m down-sizing. That would be a disservice at Prince Avenue. Their goals and dreams are just as important as the people at Camden. I’m going to put the same energy there as I did here.’’
He leaves Camden as the most winning school in Georgia’s highest class since he was hired there in 2000.
‘’It has been a good run,’’ Herron said. “Like I told my players, I’m a small piece of the puzzle. I’m thankful I was along for ride. They’re still going to be good. If I’d waited for them to run out of talent, I would’ve been around a long time.’’