Only a head football coach really understands the demands of the job.
Only when one sits in the big office do they realize the hours needed and the balancing required between their teaching responsibilities, parents, players, grades, eligibility, recruiting, media and booster clubs. And that list doesn’t include game planning, film study and practice schedules.
It’s why head coaches get along well. They have a unique understanding of the other’s stresses, their highs and lows.
For Shannon Jarvis and John Small, the bond is deeper than the mutual understanding.
Jarvis, the head coach at Mill Creek, and Small, the headman at South Gwinnett, worked together at South Gwinnett as assistants. Those seasons were the kindling of a friendship that only grew when they both rose to the head positions.
The two talk two or three times a week during the season.
“Sometimes as a head coach there are certain people you can talk to and me and John have been that for each other,” Jarvis said.
“We talk about ball, talk about life, kind of vent to each other a little bit,” Small said.
This week, things are slightly different. Mill Creek and South Gwinnett will meet for the first time. And the stakes couldn’t be higher in the second round of the state playoffs.
“I told John not to call me,” Jarvis said. “In some sense it’s bittersweet to play, but we are both looking forward to it.”
The two did see each other Saturday. They met on Ga. 124 about 2 a.m. to swap game film to prepare for Friday’s game.
The programs’ ties go deeper than Small and Jarvis.
Small is the only member of the South Gwinnett staff with connections to any at Mill Creek, but the Hawks are filled with former Comets. Coaches and players.
When Jarvis left South to open Mill Creek, coaches Josh Lovelady and Tommy Scott followed. Since then he has hired many of his former players at South as assistants at Mill Creek. This season there are four. Tim Rondeau coaches the running backs, Will Shelton works with the JV tight ends, Ryan Drake and Matt Clark also help coach. That is just the current crop. Preston Stancil, of the Hoyt Stancil Fieldhouse at South Stancils, coached at Mill Creek until this season. And connections with South Gwinnett cut a swath across Mill Creek athletics from the softball coach to the athletic director.
But coaching is for the players and Small revels in seeing his former players.
“It’s a joy anytime you see a kid that played for you go on and go to college and get an education and is entrenched in his career, coaching and teaching,” Small said of seeing his former players on the sideline. “It’s great to see guys that you have been a part of their lives and you get to compete against them.
“It kind of makes you feel old, too.”
Jarvis and Small each expect a big showing from former players not involved in coaching. Neither have much time to get a full grasp of all the plans.
“It’s really added to the excitement,” Jarvis said.
Among those planning a trip to the game is the patriarch of these coaches and scores more, T. McFerrin. The former South Gwinnett head coach, now at Jefferson High School, hired Jarvis, Small, Lovelady and Scott as assistants. And his Gwinnett County impact extends beyond this game to Grayson and Brookwood where former assistants Mickey Conn and Mark Crews head programs.
“I have already talked to both of them,” McFerrin said of Small and Jarvis.
McFerrin plans to park in his old spot behind the field house, but where he’ll stand during the game is up in the air.
“I have to be very careful what I say,” McFerrin said. “I guess I better stand in the middle of the end zone between both benches.
“I care about both of them and I care about both programs.”
A few years ago, McFerrin tried to put together a list of former assistants that had gone on to be head coaches and he got to 22. He’s not sure that’s exhaustive, but he’s as proud of these two as he is of any.
“They are good guys,” he said. “They are not only good coaches, but they are good guys. That’s important.”
At Mill Creek, they haven’t taken time as a staff to talk about their roots at South this week. Both staffs are more concerned with keeping this season alive than with pondering historical context. But the two teams did scrimmage this preseason and that game was a chance for a homecoming-type return for the Mill Creek coaches.
“My seven years at South Gwinnett were some of the best years I ever had,” Jarvis said. “My wife and I had just married. We made some very, very close friends. This time, going back, it’s a little more about business. We are going there to win a football game.”
Neither coach plans to hear from the other one. At least until Saturday morning. One thing all coaches understand, head coaches more than the others, is this is a career based on winning. No matter who is standing across the field.
“This (game) the money is on the line and it counts,” Small said. You pull for your friends all the time to have success, except when you play them.
“In fact, this week, I don’t really like him at all.”