A closer look at head coaches in the finals: AAA to A

A closer look at head coaches in the finals: AAA to A

The 16 head coaches in the state finals have won 1,515 games, lost only 583, tied seven, and have a winning percentage of .721 while in Georgia. They have won 15 state championships and 62 region titles. Three are first-time head coaches this season.

Here is a closer look at each of the 16 coaches, concluding today with classes AAA through A.

Class AAA

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*Brad Harber, Crisp County: Harber played high school football in San Antonio, but his father, William, played football at Georgia under defensive coordinator Erk Russell in the 1960s. That's partly how Brad wound up at Georgia Southern, the football program that Russell built. Harber changed his mind and didn't play football but graduated from Southern, and he's been in the state since. Harber assisted for 24 seasons at West Laurens, Metter, Dublin, Bleckley County, East Laurens, Lamar County and Dublin again before coming to Crisp County in 2016 as offensive line coach. A year later, after Crisp had a 13-1 breakout year, he was promoted to head coach when Shelton Felton was hired away to UT-Chattanooga. Harber has kept the Cougars winning. The 2019 region title is the school's fourth straight. This will be Crisp's first state final in history. Harber and his wife, Marcia, had six children - all girls. Their ages now are 13 to 21.

*Miguel Patrick, Cedar Grove: Patrick, who grew up in Dayton, Ohio, has coached his entire career at Cedar Grove, starting as a linebackers coach in 2007, then as the defensive coordinator when Jimmy Smith got the head coaching job in 2013. Patrick made a name for himself during the Saints' 2016 and 2018 Class AAA championship seasons as those teams fielded rugged defenses. Patrick also was head boys basketball coach for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons before being named head football coach this season when Smith joined Georgia State's staff. Patrick was a linebacker at Alabama State. His coach there, L.C. Cole, recommended him to then-Cedar Grove coach Ray Bonner, as Cole and Bonner had coached together at Tennessee State.

Class AA

*Maurice Freeman, Brooks County: Freeman is a Brooks County alumnus whose school counselor encouraged him to play football at Florida A&M and come back home to coach. So Freeman went off to be a place-kicker for the Rattlers. He became his alma mater's head coach in 1994 at age 27 and immediately won the school's first state championship. Freeman left after four seasons to become head coach at Southwest (Macon) and Brunswick. He came home in 2008, and he's led Brooks to five region titles since. The Trojans have gone to the semifinals or better seven times under Freeman. This would be their second state title. Freeman's motto is ''Bring that Hammer.''

*Roger Holmes, Dublin: Holmes, a Tennessee native, came to Dublin in 2002 and had an immediate impact. His first Fighting Irish team reached the Class AAA final. His 2005 team set a state record for points in a regular season (549), and his 2006 AA champion set a record for points in a full season (682) while winning the school's first state title since 1963. Dublin is 160-59-1 with eight region titles under Holmes. He was a head coach for 11 seasons at Beech, Tenn. His overall record is 233-108-1. Holmes is most noted as a wing-T guru. He's a national speaker on the offense that he first studied as a quarterback at Westmoreland High. He went on to play defensive back at Middle Tennessee, which also ran the wing-T.

Class A (Private)

*Jonathan Gess, Eagle's Landing Christian: Gess, a native of South Carolina, was a walk-on player and three-year starting center at The Citadel who went into the Air Force upon graduation and was stationed at Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins. While there, he began helping First Presbyterian Day's middle school and then high school team and eventually got a full-time job on the staff. ELCA hired him as head coach in 2007 at age 27. His 13-year record with the Chargers is 143-28. Gess has won four consecutive state titles, five overall.

*Franklin Pridgen, Wesleyan: Pridgen is a Westminster graduate who played football under hall-of-fame coach Wayman Creel and once remarked that his former coach would laugh if he knew Pridgen was a head football coach today. Pridgen was a better basketball player and played that sport at Washington and Lee in Virginia. Pridgen didn't plan to coach or even teach but worked at Athens Academy and Lovett before winding up at Wesleyan, committed to the coaching profession. After six years on the staff, Pridgen was promoted to head coach in 2006. Wesleyan won its first state title under Pridgen in 2008. His record in 13 seasons is 112-55.

Class A (Public)

*Chris Kirksey, Marion County: Kirksey is a former Taylor County quarterback and Georgia College graduate who has coached at only two high schools in his career - alma mater Taylor County (1995-2014) and Marion (2015-present). Those are bordering counties in the Columbus area. Kirksey was Taylor's head coach for 11 seasons and compiled a 50-62-1 record. He spent a year as Marion's defensive coordinator before getting the promotion to replace Mike Swaney in 2016. Kirksey's record at Marion is 39-10. His teams have advanced further in the playoffs each of the past three seasons. This is Marion's first final since the Eagles' 2013 Class A championship season.

*Buddy Nobles, Irwin County: Nobles is in his 32nd season as a high school coach. He got the Irwin County job in 2014. His record in Ocilla is 66-13-2 with region championships and state-final appearances in 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019. A Jacksonville native, Nobles was on the staff of current Coffee coach Robby Pruitt at University Christian (1989-92) and Union County (1993-99) in Florida and Fitzgerald (2007-11) and Coffee (2012-13) in Georgia. Nobles was part of six Florida state-championship teams. He also was head coach at Union County (Fla.) from 2002 to 2006 and was a state runner-up in 2003. His overall record is 97-40-2. Nobles was diagnosed with stomach cancer late last summer and has turned over many of his head-coaching duties to defensive coordinator Casey Soliday. For home games, Nobles has coached while sitting on a red-and-white wooden stand built for him by the school's agriculture department. It's situated at midfield and gives him an unobstructed view of the field. Irwin took it on the road to one game. The stand might make an appearance with his golf cart at Georgia State on Saturday. Otherwise, Nobles plans to work from the coaches box upstairs.

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