LILBURN - Berkmar announced it hired Will Azbell as the new baseball head coach Tuesday, luring the Collins Hill grad away from Mill Creek.
Azbell was Mill Creek's ninth-grade coach and has been involved with the Hawks' successful baseball program for the last five years.
In his first varsity head coaching job, Azbell takes over a Berkmar program that finished at the bottom of Region 8-AAAAA with a 1-13 record (9-17 overall). The Patriots have done OK against outside competition but have just five region wins in the last three years.
Azbell said he's meeting the team today for the first time and will jump right in with the Snellville Summer Slam starting next week. He's well aware of Berkmar's recent struggles and wants to emphasize fundamentals from the get-go, especially since home run hitters and ace pitchers are never a guarantee from year to year.
"They've been close to being at that level of competing in that region," Azbell said. "I'm going to go into and teach the game the way I've been taught and the way I know it.
"It always starts with the little things, the fundamentals. That baseball IQ, knowing the game, that goes a long way."
Azbell played for longtime Collins Hill coach Bob Warman before playing collegiately at Georgia State and North Georgia. His baseball education continued at Mill Creek under the tutelage of well-respected coaches Doug Jones and Roger Parham.
"He came highly recommended by Doug Jones and Roger Parham," Berkmar athletic director Glenn Wilson said. "We interviewed him and we really liked him."
Azbell said it was difficult to leave Mill Creek - he was saying his goodbyes Tuesday - because it was such a good situation.
"Everything at Mill Creek has been first class," Azbell said. "From the people that I teach with, the principal, the administration, to the baseball program and Doug Jones, it's the best there is.
"He does it the right way and I was really lucky to be able to be on his staff for five years and see how he runs a program."
But in somewhat of a Catch-22, because of that staff, there weren't going to be too many chances for advancement within the program.
"Unfortunately, there's so many great coaches here that, although I would have liked to move up the ranks here, it was very tough," Azbell said. "I'm not upset, I understood it.
"I would have rather spent five years with those guys than gone and been a varsity coach from the beginning with someone that didn't have the experience of those guys. I'll be forever grateful that I got a chance to work with those guys."
It was a whirlwind process for Azbell.
He found out about the opening - created when Justin Bishop resigned to take an assistant job a Parkview - May 8. He thought seriously about what he wanted to do over that weekend and sent in his resume the following Monday. Last Tuesday, Berkmar checked his references and set up an interview for Thursday. On Friday, he was hired.
"Sometimes it's good it comes so quick that you don't have time to dwell on it too much," Azbell said. "It's been a goal of mine to be a head coach and I wasn't expecting it to be this quick."