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New year, another new coach at North

SUWANEE - This is the exact moment it sank in for Bob Sphire, when it became crystal clear that he was dealing with football players who had some serious trust issues.

After losing a close 7-on-7 passing league game in a tournament in Hoover, Ala., the new North Gwinnett head coach took his players aside.

"Guys, that one's on me," he told them. "I've been in this game a long time and I've walked off the field a whole lot thinking I was a positive influence in helping coach a team into a win. I may have done my best job there of coaching you into a loss. So I'll take that one."

Then he added: "But hey, it's still a good day. I just got a call from my wife and she got offered a job today that she's going to start Aug. 21. And she called and also said we finally got an offer on our house up in Lexington (Ky.). So I've got that off my back."

After a few minutes a couple of the older Bulldogs confided in Sphire.

"Coach, when you told us you got a phone call, we thought you were going to tell us that you got a college job," they said.

And there it is.

One simple statement sums up perfectly what the North Gwinnett players were feeling after what they had been through the previous three years.

In 2004, Dennis Roland took over the North Gwinnett program from Tim Hammontree and led the Bulldogs to one of the best seasons in school history. He promptly left to be the head coach at Southeast Louisiana

University.

In 2005, Matt Moore replaced Roland and led the Bulldogs to their second consecutive playoff appearance. He promptly left to be an assistant coach at Troy

University.

So now it's 2006 and the 49-year-old Sphire is North Gwinnett's fourth head coach in four years - meaning the current Bulldog seniors will have gone their entire high school careers without having the same coaching staff for more than 12 months.

Sphire admits that the Bulldogs didn't completely warm to him and his staff from Day 1. Then again, who could blame them?

"Without question, they were very gun shy," said Sphire, who makes his regular-season debut with North on Friday night at Walton. "They really were very gun shy."

But that was six months ago. Now the Bulldogs have gone through spring practice with Sphire and have endured two-a-days in the sizzling August heat. They have had plenty of time to get adjusted, again, to their new head coach.

"Change is good," Sphire said, "and these kids have really experienced a whole lot of positives with these things. The ones that have stayed are really committed to it."

And Sphire is committed to winning.

For the last 15 years the Kentucky native was head coach at Lexington Catholic, where he started the program and led it to 13 straight playoff appearances, including the 2005 Class AAA state title.

His quarterback in 2005, current North Carolina State freshman Justin Burke, threw for a state-record 62 touchdowns passes in leading Lexington Catholic to the title. Burke finished his career with 8,770 passing yards and 120 passing TDs.

So North fans who are used to the Bulldogs throwing it all over the field will see more of the same this season, though Sphire says there are "at least subtle differences" between his offense and the ones that were employed by Roland and Moore.

The Bulldog players and community are also hoping for one major difference between Sphire and the two previous coaches - that he wears the Red and Black for more than just 12 months.

"All I can tell you," he said with a laugh, "is that I was at my last job for 15 years."