TIFTON — Noel Dean is ready to get to know Tifton. The new Blue Devils head football coach has plans for not just his team in 2021, but also in bringing team and community together.
Dean, who was hired Jan. 26, comes to Georgia after winning three state championships in his home state of Michigan. He’s met his administration, his assistants and his players and has even had the opportunity to dine on some barbecue.
He’s a veteran of football, having spent about 30 years in coaching. That’s quite a span in sports, but Dean hasn’t seen any changes in who he’s coached.
“The kids are the same kids,” he said. “There’s no difference. We’ve been doing the same things (he paused to knock on a wooden table), same arguments, same discussions with kids since the beginning of time.”
Dean said he is an advocate of kids: “That’s how I coach and that’s what I’m about. It’s about the kids. It’s not about anybody else.”
Blue Devils fans looking to garner insight on what Dean will be installing will have to wait. He leans slightly towards considering himself more offense-minded, but at the same “you have to have a defense, you have to have special teams.” A practice schedule is currently being made.
Community will figure heavily into what Dean does at Tift County.
The community can join athletic teams not in just celebrating success, but in other factors, such as the nutrition program or in leadership or community service. He’d like there to be a “Get your season tickets now, or you’re not going to get them” atmosphere.
“We’re going to have fun and we’re going to get after it,” Dean said.
Dean watched that atmosphere build at both Bendle and Lowell.
It’s “transformative,” he said. “It changed everything for them as far as hometown.” Dean said he did not know if any event would have as many in attendance as home football games. “Especially if we’re doing it the right way.”
Some individuals may be born coaches. Locally, the Rutland/Conner family seems to be heading in that direction. Johnny Rutland coached basketball. His daughter, Julie Conner, is doing the same and her son, Tye, is showing interest in the same path.
Dean joked that he had been told he was born to coach. He’s not sure of that. Dean said he became a coach to become a teacher so he could be near — and ultimately marry — his childhood sweetheart.
“That’s what my 22-year-old self was saying to me,” Dean said. The idea was a great one on all fronts. “I got into it and I loved it,” he said. “I just loved the whole idea of strategy, and the thought and the process and building and giving and creating experiences.”
Dean loves building interactions between kids, coaches and the community, both at the high school and the community at-large.
“To wear that ’T’ and be proud of how we go about our business is important to me,” he said.
Tift will have one immediate challenge: Filling out a football schedule. A request went out on Twitter last week asking for interested schools to contact assistant Will Flowers. Though schedules are normally essentially set for two years, the coronavirus pandemic tossed all of that out the window.
The Blue Devils saw four of their originally scheduled games not take place because of quarantines. The team was able to schedule two opponents as makeups — Lee County and Perry — but those games were apparently one-year contracts.
“Four games is what we’re working on right now,” said Dean.
Dean doesn’t expect kids to change from one state to the next, but there are differences between Michigan high school football and Georgia. One, Michigan’s regular seasons are nine games long, whereas as Georgia’s are almost always 10.
“That’s the way it’s built there,” he said. A big reason for that are the seasons. Winter comes a little quicker and a little harder in the Wolverine State. Georgia, of course, had no issues playing a state final after Christmas in 2020.
Another difference is the size of the classifications. Dean said there are about 80 teams in each division in Michigan. There were 45 7A teams in 2020, though the number was 63 five years ago when Georgia topped out at 6A.
Similarities did exist during playoff time. Dean said about half of the division’s teams did so. Thirty-two teams from each Georgia class do now, four for each of the eight regions. The manner they made the playoffs differed. Michigan has a points systems, similar to power ratings.
Dean said he liked Georgia’s system. “You just don’t want that (No.) 4 seed because the draw is tough,” he said.
Community support is big to Dean.
He invites anyone who can afford to support Tift County football to do so. Those who can give time and talents are invited to that.
In the works is an annual “big night” to be centered around a home game. Details are still to be worked out.
“It’s going to be supporting Greater Tifton and we’re going to make it a community project with our school and some of our classes up here and football kids. It should be a pretty good time.”
Dean is settling into life as a classroom teacher at TCHS, giving him more opportunities to interact with his squad. He’s also held a senior leadership meeting. “That was great,” he said. “They’re excited. They have some stuff they want to do and they have some goals that they want to accomplish.” Dean said it was up to him and the staff to help them achieve those goals.
“It’s going to be a senior-led team, that’s for sure,” said Dean.
Tift will have a full schedule and Dean will have an empty nest. His youngest son graduates from high school this year and will soon be on his way to Harvard. He’ll be the third Dean son to attend and a daughter earned an academic and soccer scholarship to Ferris State (Mich.).
The Dean boys are wrestlers and, if there is any sport Noel Dean likes as much as football, it’s wrestling. Many of his best players over the years have wrestled and he sees what wrestling can bring to a program, especially on defense.