Staff Photo: Brandon Brigman Duluth football coach Jason Conner.
Jason Conner, 33, was recently hired as the head football coach at Duluth. Conner spent the last two seasons as an assistant at Duluth and previously coached at Jefferson with now Duluth athletic director Bill Navas.
Conner is a 1998 graduated of Vidalia High School and earned his bachelor's degree in social science education from the University of Georgia in 2005.
Conner and his wife Amy have a 9-month-old son Brayden.
In this latest installment of "Getting To Know ... ," Conner talks to staff writer Brandon Brigman about being the new head coach at Duluth, growing up in Vidalia and his father being a preacher.
BB: Congrats on getting the Duluth job. Have you started figuring out a way to beat defending state champion and Region 7 foe Norcross?
JC: That's the challenge. (laughs) I'd probably say execution and I'd say we definitely have to get stronger as a program. We're going against, in this region, so many great football teams and great coaching every Friday night. But the biggest difference is the physical strength you see on film between those programs and us, so we're trying to close that gap. Our kids are working very hard.
BB: Duluth has been much better in recent years. How do you get the program over the hump and into the playoffs?
JC: I think a lot of it has to do with the boys are learning to play football the right way. We have improved, but so are the other teams in this region. We have to understand as those teams improve we have to work harder and we have to take our work ethic, we have to work smarter. We have to implement systems our boys can execute and put us in the right position to make plays on the field. And use our assests to the best of our ability. Winning is a subject of a lot of different things on Friday night. The most important thing you can do is be the best Duluth can be and not beat ourselves as bad as we have in the past a lot because it's hard enough to beat these teams as it is. You can't give them things like we've given them in the past. The past three years, Coach (Corey) Jarvis did a great job of implementing a work ethic and I'm looking to build on that foundation and improve that.
BB: You've been an assistant coach for eight years. What are you looking forward to about being a head coach?
JC: Just building a relationship with each of my players and just being able to implement my vision of the football program that I've dreamed about since I was very young. I'm excited to coach at the highest level of football in the Southeast of the United States. I understand the challenges of this program and I would love to face it on a Friday night.
BB: Actually, the correct answer was talking to the media.
JC: (laughs) Well yeah, that's part of the job. The Gwinnett Daily Post does a great job and I'm impressed with what y'all do covering high school sports. Being from South Georgia, the local newspapers covered it, but it wasn't to the level that y'all do which is really exciting.
BB: What did you learn under legendary coach T. McFerrin while at Jefferson?
JC: Oh, T. McFerrin is a legendary coach. When he came to Jefferson, we had some success under Coach (Bill) Navas. We had won a region championship, gone undefeated and so he kind of came in and taught us how to plan for a 15-game schedule. Meaning, his idea of winning was to win a state championship. Obviously, he met his ultimate goal winning a state championship at Jefferson. I'd say the organization and doing the small things right. Holding players accountable for everything from cleaning their locker to having their helmet placed the right way. All the way to understanding their function on the football team. The other thing is how he treats people. He's a great man. He's a nice guy, a genuine guy. He's always going to be honest with you. But he puts the players first, so that's what I learned from him. Hopefully I can carry that over into my career as a head coach.
BB: What's the biggest difference coaching at the AA or AAA level and coach at AAAAAA?
JC: Well, in AA there are great AA. There are coaches in AA who could easily be sitting in my chair right now. In saying that, the difference is the quality of athlete from the 22 guys on the field at the same time, the speed of the game is definitely faster. When you have enough players on the football team where you can focus your whole practice on execution and they are not two platooning so to speak -- the are practicing offense the whole time or defense the whole time -- executing and sophistication is much higher.
BB: You grew up in New Orleans, Lilburn and Vidalia. Why did you move around so much as a kid?
JC: My late father, who passed away in January, he was a Southern Baptist preacher. A lot like football coaches, the old saying 'If you're not getting hired, you're getting fired.' preachers have to move around. We live in New Orleans, actually inner city New Orleans when he was at theological seminary. I was actually a Mountain Park Panther when I was very young. My aunt was very active in the Brookwood sports booster. But my mom and dad wanted to go home to Vidalia. I was very young when we moved. Truly, I'm a South Georgia guy. Moving around is a product of my father.
BB: How many times did you go to the Mardi Gras parades?
JC: We would go to the Mardi Gras parades, but people in New Orleans know there's only certain portions of the parade you go to. You go to get the beads and the coins, but in a much different way than when you go downtown. My father had no part of that.
BB: You're not a Saints fan, are you?
JC: No, absolutely not. Falcons fan. Georgia grad and alum. I love the Falcons and I'm really excited about some of the moves they've made.
BB: Did you grow up eating Vidalia onions as a kid?
JC: You know what's funny, the Vidalia Indians was our mascot, but everybody's sign we would run through said something about Vidalia onions. But I actually didn't eat onions at all. The entire town would smell like them in harvest season, but I actually didn't eat onions. It certainly played a big role in our community down there.
BB: What's the biggest difference from Vidalia and Gwinnett?
JC: Traffic. Well, the only traffic in Vidalia, you had four red lights when I was growing up, the only traffic was a tractor going down the road. I'd probably say Gwinnett County, each cluster of schools is a community in of itself. Whereas Vidalia you have a unified city behind you.
BB: Your father was a preacher and your mother was a teacher. I bet you never got in trouble as a kid.
JC: Uh, I pushed the limits. Honestly, I can say my father and mother instilled a work ethic and an idea of being a servant that I would like to carry onto the football field. It's one of those things where my mother is a great teach, so I try to implement some of the things she said about relationships with students because I saw her doing that for so long.
BB: You didn't want to follow your father's footsteps and be a preacher?
JC: There was a time I thought maybe, so I went with the only person that can only be critized as much as a preacher and that's a football coach. (laughs).
BB: Daily Post Sports Editor Will Hammock said he played golf with you last year at the Gwinnett Touchdown Club golf tournament. Are you a good golfer?
JC: No. As a matter of fact, I've warned the other coaches. I've already called the Jefferson golf coaches and I may stack my team. I'm awful. It is one of those things I had fun with Will. I am not a good golfer.
BB: Football keeps you very occupied, but what do you like to do when you're not drawing up X's and O's?
JC: My wife would say I'm football obsessed. When I'm not watching football on Saturday and when I'm not game planning on Sunday, I'm watching recorded football. Really, it's my hobby, my life, my profession. I do like to go to the movies. My wife is my best friend, so we like to hang out and go different places. Of course, my son keeps me very occupied now.
BB: How long to do you plan to be at Duluth?
JC: When I interviewed, I told them this was my dream job so to speak. Duluth is my goal. I love it here. I love the students, I love the community and I love the challenge it presents. I forsee myself in the forseable future.