Chance Jones credits assistants for first-year success
In the football coaches’ suite at Tattnall Square, there’s a back room where the staff congregates to discuss things, draw up plays and hash out whatever else is going on.
Just about every high school program has a room like this. But few can boast the number of veteran coaches that fill such a room.
One coach has 37 years of head coaching experience, mostly in the GISA, and ranks seventh on the state’s all-time victory list. Another coach spent a dozen years at the helm of one of Middle Georgia’s most storied programs and had .500 or better seasons in 10 of those years.
Also on the staff is a Middle Georgia coaching veteran who spent time as a basketball head coach, as well as a defensive coordinator who became a big part of what was to come.
Chance Jones had plenty of help in his first year as a varsity head coach. Between the assistants and his previous experience as Prince Avenue Christian’s offensive coordinator, he had developed a vast body of knowledge.
Few, however, expected the kind of success Jones and his Tattnall program experienced in his rookie season.
Tattnall, which went through an uncharacteristic 4-6 season in 2015, rebounded following a coaching change. The Jones-led Trojans ran the table during the regular season, going 10-0 and winning the GHSA Region 7-1A championship, before advancing to the Class 1A private semifinals.
Jones, whose team finished 12-1, has been named The Telegraph All-Middle Georgia Football Coach of the Year.
“It will be a season I’ll remember,” Jones said. “Being my first year, I’ll remember these seniors and these assistants that were here to help me.”
Like his father, former Westfield head coach Ronnie Jones, Chance Jones isn’t one for loud talk. He comes across as reserved, deferring the spotlight to others.
The two spend plenty of time together. Ronnie Jones joined the staff as an assistant, playing a bit of a different role than he did on the sidelines at Westfield, where he led the Hornets to GISA Class 3A titles in 2013 and 2014.
Long someone who patrolled the sidelines, Ronnie Jones watched games from the press box this fall, serving as his son’s eyes in the sky.
“Being up in the press box, I’d never been up there,” Ronnie Jones said. “It’s certainly a different view of the ballgame. You can’t see anything on the sidelines. Hopefully I made a few suggestions up there that helped.
“Chance has a good mind for the offensive side of the ball. I told his mama, ‘Sometimes he listened, and sometimes he didn’t.’ But he certainly did a good job in his first season, and I was glad to be able to be a part of that.”
Joining them was former Warner Robins head coach Bryan Way, who was able to coach his favorite position, offensive line. Also joining them were James Massey, who spent three seasons as Mount de Sales boys basketball head coach and worked with the defensive line, and defensive coordinator Travis Absher, a holdover from previous head coach Clint Morgan’s staff.
“Dad and Coach Way and Coach Massey came in and were huge helps,” Jones said. “And then we had Coach Absher, who stayed on and did the defense, and our defense was awesome this year.”
It’s a staff that had plenty of football and coaching knowledge. They also had the players to pull off the turnaround, as well.
This year’s Tattnall roster had 16 seniors, several of whom played critical roles.
Offensively, running back Ahmad Barron became the featured back in Jones’ version of the wing-T, a combination of things he picked up from his dad and his time at Prince Avenue. Barron wound up running for 1,627 yards and 17 touchdowns, part of an offense that had several players capable of breaking runs.
Defensively, Christian Rodgers was at the heart of things with 110 solo tackles, 15 tackles for loss, five sacks and three forced fumbles.
What those seniors — and their teammates — accomplished was dramatic.
Tattnall rolled through the front half of its schedule, allowing just 23 points while scoring 243. There were a couple of challenges in Region 7A-1A play, including a wild 34-27 win over Twiggs County and a 38-29 win over FPD.
The two big games on the Tattnall schedule, however, became a couple of epic defensive battles with Stratford and its head coach, Mark Farriba, Jones’ mentor at Prince Avenue.
The Oct. 28 regular-season meeting was, simply put, a smashmouth contest. Other than a Stratford field goal, neither team was able to score until the closing minutes, when Barron broke open a 40-yard touchdown run in what became a 7-3 Tattnall victory.
They met three weeks later in the second round of the Class 1A private playoffs. There was a little more scoring in that one, but defensive stands still played a big role in the Trojans’ 13-7 win in front of a packed house at Jack Baynes Field.
In between those two Stratford games, Tattnall beat Washington-Wilkes 47-21 for the region championship.
“Coach Farriba is one of my mentors, and I love him to death,” Jones said. “He’s hard to play because you know he’s going to have a great defense, and on top of that, we kind of do the same things on offense. He’s a tough one to have to match up against.
“I told him after the (playoff) game that I didn’t like playing him, and he said, ‘I agree.’ ”
Jones picked up another big win over a veteran head coach in the quarterfinals. Tattnall went to Calvary Day, coached by former Washington County state championship head coach Rick Tomberlin, and won 28-14.
Tattnall’s run came to an end in the semifinals, where eventual state champion Eagle’s Landing Christian prevailed 42-21.
“It was a good season,” Jones said. “I was lucky to get the 16 seniors that I inherited, and then I was lucky to get some coaches to come in that were very helpful for us to be able to have the season that we had.”