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New coach takes reins

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Chastain says faith led him to replace friend Rogers at Jones County

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The Mike Chastain era at Jones County began Monday morning.

Less than a week after it was official that Justin Rogers was leaving as head football coach of the Greyhounds, his successor was at work in Gray, meeting with coaches still on staff, on the phone with others he may hire, being introduced to returning players and learning his way around campus.

“It’s crazy how quick this has all happened,” Chastain said Monday morning. “It just shows how the good Lord can work.”

A week earlier, Chastain was settled as the head coach at Warner Robins. He was 29-12 in three years there, coming off a second consecutive trip to the state Class 5A finals. Returning players were doing their spring conditioning and weight training, and he and his assistants were preparing for the start of spring practice.

Then Chastain heard that his friend Rogers was leaving after going 45-15 in five years at Jones County to become head coach at Colquitt County.

Rogers’ hiring there was confirmed on Monday evening, and the next day Chastain was contacted by Jones County athletic director Barry Veal. Wednesday morning, he came to Gray for an interview, and that afternoon it was announced he had agreed to take the job. Friday, the Jones County Board of Education confirmed his hiring.

“I’m still a little fuzzy on just when everything happened, it was so quick,” Chastain said. “I wasn’t looking for a change. I was planning on things staying the same at Warner Robins. But then this popped up, and this all happened.”

It was not haphazard, though, Chastain says. He is certain why he is now coaching the Greyhounds rather than the Demons.

“I’m a man of faith. I believe the good Lord led me here. I’m not trying to be all holier than thou. I just trust in the Lord.”

So when the opportunity came, he and his wife, Carrie, talked and prayed about it, and the decision was made.

They have three children, Eli, 14, Kylie, 12, and Rex, 9.

“I think it is a great job and a really great place to be. I don’t know a lot about the community yet, but everyone here says how phenomenal it is, and we’re excited to get here and get plugged in,” Chastain said.

Chastain and his wife are both Houston County natives and graduates of Northside-Warner Robins. She teaches students with moderate intellectual disabilities at Warner Robins High. They have always lived in Houston County, even when he was coaching in other towns.

Was it hard to decide to pull up anchor and move two counties north?

“It’s not hard to leave when you put your faith in God and trust him, when you pray and feel he is leading you somewhere. That’s how we are about this move.”

Chastain is also certain he is stepping into a good situation professionally.

“This is a good place for growth in football,” he said. “It will be good to be in a one-horse town where everyone is working and fighting for the same thing.”

He said that was not a knock against Houston County, which has five public school programs and an active private school.

“There are wonderful people and great schools and teams there. We loved the kids and coaches at Warner Robins. But if you do something for one school, you have to do it for all of them. Here all the focus can be on one.”

Chastain said he also is familiar with the Greyhounds, even though they did not play Warner Robins while he was the coach there.

“Justin and I are pretty good friends. We talk quite often. I coached against him when I was (offensive coordinator) at Houston County. But when I got the Warner Robins job and found we wouldn’t be in the same region any more, we agreed to never play each other so we could continue talking and sharing.”

Both run fast-paced spread offenses that work to move the ball down field quickly, so they shared ideas about how to do that better.

“He’s told me a good bit about the program and the players here,” Chastain said, so that should help in getting up to speed quicker in his new job.

Chastain coached now Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm at Houston County, and he coached Fromm’s younger twin brothers at Warner Robins, who transferred there for their junior and senior seasons.

Dylan Fromm was the quarterback and passed for 7,862 yards and 81 touchdowns in his two seasons. He has signed with Mercer. Tyler Fromm was a tight end and one of his brother’s main targets. He has signed with Auburn.

Together with the Demons under Chastain, they went 14-1 in 2017, losing to powerhouse Rome in the championship game. This past season, Warner Robins avenged the loss to Rome in the semifinals but was upset by Bainbridge in triple overtime in the title game to finish 12-3.

Which, as a side note, is another connection between Rogers and Chastain. Both had their 2018 seasons end with losses to Bainbridge – the Greyhounds 40-13 in the opening round of the state playoffs and the Demons 47-41 in the final round.

Chastain does not promise another trip to the state finals this season, but he does say he believes Jones County has a program capable of getting there.

“We’ve been fortunate the past few years, but no doubt there are the same things and potential here we had there,” he said. “It takes a lot of work and some luck to get to the championship game, but I feel good about the organization and talent here for Jones County football to compete at a high level. That’s what we’re going to be working to do.”

Impressive resume

Chastain has coached at a number of schools around Middle Georgia since playing at Northside-Warner Robins and at West Georgia, where he played center for four years and worked one year as a student coach.

His jobs before becoming Warner Robins head coach in 2016 include one year as a community coach at Houston County, two years as Byron Middle School head coach, three years as an assistant (tight ends and tackles) at Northside-Warner Robins, two years as an assistant (offensive line/ strength) at Bleckley County, two years as an assistant (quarterbacks/strength) at Peach County, two years as offensive coordinator at Lee County, two years as an assistant (quarterbacks) at Veterans, and three years as offensive coordinator at Houston County.

Charles Gibson, Jones County school superintendent, said he was sad to see Rogers leave but thrilled that Chastain could be hired as the new coach.

“I would like to publicly thank Justin Rogers and his family for all they did for Jones County and wish them nothing but the best,” Gibson said. “And I am looking forward to what Coach Chastain and his family will do here. He said his faith led him to make this change, and I think he will be very good for our students and football program.”

Veal, in announcing Chastain as the new coach to the football players last Wednesday afternoon, said he was one of the top two or three coaches in Middle Georgia and getting him to come to Gray fulfilled his promise to them to find the best replacement possible for Rogers.

“We’ve hit a home run getting him,” Veal said.

Chastain has been told he can select his own offensive and defensive coordinators, but those decisions have not been announced.

The start of spring practice had been scheduled for Wednesday, but it was pushed back a week to May 1 due to the coaching change. That also led to canceling the spring football game with Peach County, scheduled for May 10.

“We’ll have spring practice May 1-17,” Chastain said. “We’ll end with a scrimmage, probably just a regular practice, but maybe in the stadium. But people are welcome to come watch.

“My plan is to have my coaching staff set by May 1,” he added. “They may not all be here for spring practice – some of the guys who teach classes may have to stay and work out their contracts where they are for the rest of the school year – but we’ll have enough here for practice.”

Asked if there was anything else people in Jones County should know about him, Chastain smiled.

Though he and Rogers are friends and share many of the same offensive philosophies, don’t expect him to be the same, Chastain said.

“I don’t talk as much as he does. I’ll probably seem pretty boring after him,” he said.

“I’m basically just faith, family and football. But I’m excited to be here, and I’m ready to get to work.”