Updated: GHSA approves Gary Phillips as new executive director

Gary Phillips was approved Wednesday as the new executive director of the Georgia High School Association. The assistant executive director since 2001, Phillips will replace the retiring Ralph Swearngin on July 1.

“Dr. Swearngin is a good steward, so I don’t think you’ll see an earth-shattering change in the GHSA,’’ Phillips said. “Something that I learned as a principal was fix the hiccups, and for those things that work good, make sure they stay that way.’’

Phillips said some of the bigger issues he expected to face in the next academic year included reclassification of the GHSA’s 448 member schools, the public-private debate and increasing allegations of illegal recruiting of student-athletes.

Phillips said that the board of trustees brought up the issue of recruiting in his interview. Phillips said the hiring this past summer of Carror Wright, an associate director whose responsibilities are compliance and investigations, was a sign that the GHSA is committed to addressing those concerns.

“I think we’ve always had some concern for issues like recruiting,’’ Phillips said, “but we’ve had to balance that with other priorities and didn’t have a specific officer in the association where that was his primary task, taking these charges that we get from time to time, deciding what’s valid and what’s not.’’

Phillips said the move in 2012 to six classifications from five and the separation of Class A into public and private divisions produced favorable results for many schools. The change led to seven state champions in many sports, instead of five.

“We had schools in both the public and private settings that experienced success last year that say those successes created an enthusiasm in their schools that they might not have had,’’ Phillips said. “From what I saw from the reclassification committee, they felt like the results were good enough that we need to continue this for at least another two years. Then we can make a long-term decision.’’

Phillips said the GHSA remains open to changes in classifying private schools or other schools that get large numbers of students from outside their districts or service areas. Private schools have dominated all-sports trophies for years. Member schools also have expressed concern about city schools with open enrollments such as Buford, Gainesville and Jefferson that won multiple state titles in the 2012-13 academic year.

Phillips will be the GHSA’s fifth executive director. Before Swearngin, the others were Tommy Guillebeau (1992-2000), Bill Fordham (1982-91) and Sam Burke (1946-81). All have been promoted from within the organization, so Phillips’ promotion was no surprise.

Phillips was principal of Fayette County High School for 15 years before coming to the GHSA 12 years ago. Phillips had been a football coach at Fayette County, West Rome, Central of Macon and Johnson County. Phillips’ 1979 Johnson County team, led by Herschel Walker, won a state championship.

Swearngin became the GHSA’s executive director in 2001. He had served the GHSA since 1992, originally as commissioner of officials and deputy director.

The GHSA’s executive committee approved the recommendation of Phillips by a 52-0 vote. Six members were absent.

17 comments Add your comment

That Dude Says...

October 16th, 2013
12:17 pm

I don’t think Gary Phillip’s ever coached football at Fayette Co. he was just the principal.

That Dude Says...

October 16th, 2013
12:21 pm

My bad he could of been an assistant coach. I was assuming you meant head coach.


October 16th, 2013
1:35 pm

So from 85-92 there was no executive director?

Mountain Man

October 16th, 2013
3:05 pm

I hope he checks Buford out. Maybe he will check out the QB and the boy they brought from Texas. You know I told the mom moved the little brother out of hall county after part of the year in school their. you know kept talking about it in this section till she move him. Like I said was something wrong.

Todd Holcomb

October 16th, 2013
3:16 pm

Typo on the previous executive directors. Fordham was ED through 1992. And yes, Phillips was an assistant coach at Fayette.

Todd Holcomb

October 16th, 2013
3:20 pm

Quick Phillips story – He told me this several years ago, but when he was hired at Johnson County, he was watching film of what would have been Herschel Walker’s sophomore year. Walker was a fullback, I believe, and was not the main attraction of the offense. But Phillips saw enough to know he would be as a junior. He asked to meet Walker and told him, ‘What do you think about being our main running back next year?’ Herschel said sure. Phillips said, ‘I just want you to understand what I mean. You could run the ball 25-30 times a game.’ Walker said, ‘Coach, the ball ain’t heavy.’

Of course, Walker made that line famous while at UGA after 47 rushing attempts in one game at the old Gator Bowl. But he first said it before his junior season at JoCo. Rushed for a state-record 3,167 yards as a senior. JoCo won Class A.


October 16th, 2013
4:12 pm

SportsTopFan(c) CONGRATULATES Gary Phillips on his selection as executive director of the Georgia High School Association !!!

We wish you much luck and success in your new position.

A very, very special THANKS to Ralph Swearngin for a job well done.

Predatory Lender

October 16th, 2013
7:54 pm

Coach Phillips will do a great job as the Executive Director…..seems like just yesterday hearing him say, “Get up you Hogs!”


October 16th, 2013
9:14 pm

Here come the private school and city school multiplier you heard it here 1st…. They will only go up 1 class.


October 17th, 2013
6:45 am

For those that experienced success and enthusiasm in their schools due to the increase to six classifications, there are those that experienced just the opposite. Just ask Habersham Central and others like them that had no business being put in 6A!! How about getting it right this time around GHSA!! Imagine that, all those city schools doing so well last year!! Must have just been dumb luck!!


October 17th, 2013
8:41 am

i agree with getitright…the open enrollment city schools have a definite advantage. in addition to the schools mentioned above (Buford, Gainesville, Jefferson), you can add Calhoun, Carrollton, and many others. I also think the multiplyer should return for private schools. You can debate the size it should be, but the advantages private schools have, especially in the lower classifications, is hard to argue against.


October 17th, 2013
8:55 am

Gary was also head coach at Riverwood HS from 1980 -83.


October 17th, 2013
9:06 am

It’s about time the GHSA gets someone more compitant that RS. I’ve had a few run-ins over the past 7 seasons with him. It’s RS’s way or no way! Good luck Mr. Phillips!


October 17th, 2013
9:19 am

Congratulation to Gary Phillips! Dr Swearngin did a fabulous job, and I’m sure Mr. Phillips will too. Hard to beat the legacy of Tommy Guillebeau and Sam Burke though.

My old Lowndes County High team simply could not beat Ware Count when Coach Guillebeau was there, or Tift County. But the year he became Tift’s head coach, we beat them both, on my birthday! And the team sang Happy Birthday to me at the Alpine steakhouse on 7th Street after the game. He was a great high school coach, but an even better executive director. I’ m sure Gary Phillips will do the same.


October 17th, 2013
10:09 am

We can only hope he does a better job than the weak kneed person he replaces.

Dallas Highway

October 17th, 2013
8:40 pm

City schools with open enrollments should not be allowed to play agaisnt public schools that don’t in the playoffs. I can live with it during the regular season but come the playoffs everyone must follow the same rules

Dallas Highway

October 17th, 2013
8:46 pm

At the end of every season, each classification should have a:

Public School State Champion
City School State Champion
Private School State Champion

I’m just talking about post season.