Photo by Christine Troyke
Charlie Conn, 66, has been an important member of the Grayson Touchdown Club since the school opened in 2000 and his son Mickey became the Rams' first (and still only) head football coach. He also was active for years in the South Gwinnett Touchdown Club when Mickey played there.
Conn, who currently works for a stadium construction company, is a native of Gallant, Ala., and he graduated from Etowah County High School in Attalla, Ala. He and his wife Paula have two children, Mickey and Jennie Brice, and five grandchildren.
In this latest installment of "Getting to Know ...," Conn talks with staff correspondent Austin Miller about Grayson's early days, his love of Alabama and giving up sports to work at A&P.
AM: Your son, Mickey, has been the head football coach at Grayson since the school has opened. What has been your involvement with the program and what it was like building a program from the ground up?
CC: Mickey played football at South Gwinnett and then went on to play at the University of Alabama. During his playing days at South Gwinnett, I was heavily involved with the booster club and fundraising, and even when he went to Alabama, I stayed on at South Gwinnett and did some things over there. In February of 2000, Mickey was hired as the head football coach at Grayson. In that very first year, he was only able to hire one full-time football coach so I volunteered to help him as a lay coach. And because of my past experience at South Gwinnett, where we had just built a stadium, I volunteered to help him build a stadium at Grayson that very first year.
He made a contact with the stadium company and the community got involved with it and backed us up, so we actually played our home games at Grayson that very first year. We had 85 kids that reported for the first spring practice at McConnell Middle School. We went through a spring practice with a football and shorts because we didn't have any equipment. I can remember we had a spring touch-football game out there in the spring of 2000. Then we went through the summer, got some equipment, he was able to hire one coach, and we had four or five community lay coaches. We got the stadium built, the visitor side, which we built first.
And the next year, he was able to hire some coaches. And my role since then has been kind of in the background of the fundraising. We built a home side, we got those gold seats, we were able to build a big strength center, a concession stand, and, then, last year the county came in and built us a field house. So my role over the past eight or nine years has been supporting the touchdown club and supporting Mickey. I'm just having a good time being around my son and my grandkids.
AM: Mickey won a national championship at Alabama. Talk about how his experience there has contributed to the early and continued success he has had at Grayson.
CC: Mickey was a walk-on football player at the University of Alabama. And before he left South Gwinnett, they had an 8-2 record, which was one of the best records South had ever had at that time. His senior class at Alabama went 45-5-1. Our team, earlier, was winning as a habit. And that's a quote we talked about. Outside of that, Mickey believes in strong character. He teaches character, work ethic, honesty, and those types of traits. And because he took over a brand new school, he was able to instill that into our players as they came through and they didn't know any different because that's all they were taught. Because of his background as a walk-on, he followed Bear Bryant's creed: "They may be better, they may be bigger, they may be stronger, but I will never be guilty of somebody outworking me." And that's kind of been his theme at Grayson. It's just kind of caught on. And, now, his depth chart is good, the youth program is real heavily involved in the program. It's just one of those situations now where our kids just believe that we're going to win when we go onto the field. And they have a great coaching staff, they do a great job and work hard, the administration is a big supporter, and the community is a big supporter. This year, we lost a lot of great players from last year, but as we go into the season, our kids are thinking right now in terms of a state championship. We obviously have a big region to get through, even to make the playoffs, and everyone understands that, but, at the same time, the expectations are very, very high.
AM: Your involvement in the stadium building at Grayson led to your stadium business?
CC: At South Gwinnett High School, it must have been in 1997, this company out of Texas, Southern Bleacher, came in to build us a new stadium. And I was involved in the fundraising and some of the decisions about that stadium, and became friends with those people. In 2000, when Mickey got the Grayson job, he wanted to build a stadium and that's who he called so I was real heavily involved with them in building it. A couple of years later, I got a call and the salespeople that covered Georgia and Alabama had left the company and the owner of Southern Bleacher said, "Would you mind helping us a little bit? I know you know a lot people in Georgia. Would you mind just kind of helping us a little bit with your name and maybe making some calls?" Anyway six years later, as it turned out, it's become a full-time job for me. We just finished big stadium projects at West Georgia and at Fort Valley State. We also just finished a stadium down in Warner Robins, where the Southeast Region Little League was moved to. And I've done several stadiums in Gwinnett and throughout the metro area. What started out as kind of a hobby has kind of become a full-time job.
AM: Did you play any sports growing up?
CC: I played a little football, baseball and basketball until I was 16, and I gave up all sports to go to work. I started working at the A&P Grocery Store when I was 16. That kind of ended my sports career. I was coaching Babe Ruth baseball for 16- to 18-year-old kids when I was just 21. That was kind of the way it was back then. It was important to play sports, but growing up like I did, as soon as you turned 16 and you got a driver's license, you went to work.
AM: Was it hard to give up sports?
CC: It was really, really, really hard. As matter of fact, it was a big difficult thing for me because I was a pretty good athlete. But parents back then, that wasn't important. Back in 1969, Alabama went 6-5. I had some eligibility left and I used to dream about going to Alabama and walking on and playing. But I had a job, I had a baby, so there was no way I could do it. But it was ironic years later my son did that and earned a scholarship. ... A lot of people talk about living through their sons. I was able to fulfill my dreams through Mickey. That was not really why Mickey wanted to do it, he did it for himself. But it was really better than me doing it to be honest with you as far as satisfaction.
AM: How did you pick Alabama over Auburn?
CC: I just grew up Alabama. In 1958, Coach (Bear) Bryant's first year, one of my uncles carried me to a game and I was 14. Alabama beat Georgia Tech that day. I was an Alabama fan from then on.
AM: Did you ever meet the Bear?
CC: I did. I met him and got his autograph. On Sunday afternoons the whole state of Alabama stopped for Coach Bryant's TV show with his Coke and potato chips. When Mickey got to Alabama, I got to be pretty good friends wth Gene Stallings and he's a clone of Coach Bryant. The way he walked, the way he talked. Not ever getting to be friends with Coach Bryant, in a way I did because of Gene Stallings. He's a great man and a great coach.