By Steve Carter
TIFTON -- During a special called meeting Wednesday afternoon, the Tift County Board of Education unanimously approved the hiring of Jay Walls as the new head football coach and athletic director at Tift County High School.
Walls comes to Tift County after eight years as the head coach at Suwannee High School in Live Oak, Fla., where he composed a 59-37 record.
"I appreciate the honor and privilege to come and coach Tift County," Walls said after the school board's vote.
Walls then went on to thank his wife, Amy, who was also present, as well as school superintendent Dr. John Harper, Tift County High Principal Mike Duck and the school board.
"This is a great job and a great opportunity. The foundation has already been set here to be successful," Walls said.
The "foundation" was one of the things that attracted Walls to Tift County.
"There is no question that there has been a lot of hard work here with the coaches and the athletes. I know they have worked hard and I want to build on it," Walls said. "With the facilities and the tradition, this is a great place to be."
According to Harper, Walls was impressive early on in the hiring process.
"There were a lot of people that we looked at during this process. Mr. Duck and I each thought coach Walls was a good match for us. We felt like coach Walls could come in here and take care of things," the superintendent said.
He continued, "Mr. Duck and I each had a score sheet that we kept on each candidate. We kept those sheets away from each other until the end of the process. When we compared them, we both had coach Walls with the highest score."
According to Harper, the scoring was based on the Rubric system. That system scores from 1-to-5 with some of the categories including appearance, punctuality, poise and knowledge of the subjects being discussed.
Besides the scoring, several attributes made Walls attractive to Harper as the next Tift coach.
"He is an outstanding gentleman. He is highly organized. The coaches on his staff love working for him. He has high expectations for the kids," Harper said.
Getting a staff together is one of Walls' first priorities. To that end, the new Devil head coach said he first wanted to talk to the 2004 Tift staff.
"I hope to get a chance to meet and talk to each one personally," Walls said.
Besides working on a staff, Walls also plans to meet with the Tift team today.
"I want them to know who I am and I want to get to know them," Walls said. "Getting to know the kids is a big priority."
He added about the players, "Their emphasis will be on academics. Also, we want them to be good people."
Walls said he immediately wanted to get the team into his off-season program. He hopes that will help him lead the Devils to his goals for the team.
"As an athletic director, my main goal is for Tift County to have the best athletic program in the state. And of course, my main goal for the football team is to win the state championship," Walls said.
"We will definitely win at a high level."
Even though the 2004 Devils were only 5-5, the team had several things go against them in some games that might have improved their record. With several players from that team returning next season, Walls is "excited" about the possibilities of his first year at the Tift helm.
"The opportunity here is outstanding. I think you can be successful here, not only with the players, but with the tradition, the community support and the administrative support," Walls said.
Walls played his college football at Valdosta State, where he was named permanent team captain in 1985. Having played college football in the hotbed of Region 1-AAAAA, Walls is familiar with the competition he will be seeing as the new Tift coach.
"Region 1-AAAAA is awesome. I think that it is the most competitive region in the state and possibly in the nation," Walls said. "This is the kind of football I want to be around. This is a great opportunity to coach in South Georgia."
As far as what his first Tift County team may look like, Walls said offensively, "We will run a wide-open offense. We will run a lot from the spread formation, some from one-back sets, as well as two-back sets. We will also try to have a strong balance between the run and the pass."
About the defensive side of the ball, Walls, who was a defensive tackle in college, said, "I have coached a 50, 4-3 and split. But, I have had a lot of success with the 50. We are going to be the type of team that gets after folks."
The vote for Walls came after the school board went into executive session for approximately 45 minutes. Upon coming out from executive session, Harper made the recommendation for the board to hire Walls. Board member Tommy Fresh made the motion to hire the coach and it was seconded by Betty Parsons.
After the unanimous vote, board chairman Richard Golden said, "Congratulations and we are glad to have you in Tifton."
As part of his response to Golden, Walls summed up his feelings when he said, "I am just glad to be a Blue Devil."
According to Harper, Walls' salary will be right at $70,000.
"That will entail his teacher's salary scale for teaching 15 years. He also will get a local supplement, a supplement for being athletic director and football coach, as well as 40 additional days of teaching," the superintendent said.
Walls' hiring ended a two-month process that came about after Tommy Seward resigned as head coach in November.
During that time, several members of the community expressed interest in various candidates, including Tommy Flowers, the defensive coordinator on last year's team. Also, some members of the community were upset that board members were on an initial search committee.
After the controversies, Harper said, "I am glad to get today behind us, so we can move on. This was a very extensive process and we did our best to get the best possible candidate for the job."
To contact assistant sports editor Steve Carter, call 382-4321, ext. 212.
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