Justin Barnes, former Red Bank High School quarterback, has been named head football coach at Soddy-Daisy, succeeding Kevin Orr.
Barnes comes to Soddy-Daisy after eight years as an assistant coach at three different Georgia high schools – Central Gwinnett (2005), Oconee County (2006-11) and Dacula (2012). Barnes was the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach at Oconee, located in Watkinsville, Ga.
At Dacula, Barnes served as wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator. Under head coach Jared Zito, the Falcons went 1-9 this past season. In his one year at Central Gwinnett, the Black Knights went 9-4 and lost to eventual Class 5A state champion Lowndes, 38-0, in the playoff quarterfinals.
Now, Barnes, 32, has returned to familiar turf in Hamilton County.
“Obviously, I know a lot about Soddy-Daisy,” Barnes said in a telephone interview Friday morning. “My parents are still up there, five minutes from the school. Jared Hensley, their baseball coach, and I have been friends for ages. Jimmy Higgins, the wrestling coach, I’ve known him forever.
“And, all through the interview process I was blown away by the pure passion for the school and visions of (principal) John Maynard and (athletic director) Steve Henry about where they want to take the football program. They fired me up and I’m honored to be the Soddy-Daisy football coach and very excited about the opportunity before me.”
Barnes grew up in Falling Water and attended Soddy-Daisy Middle School before enrolling at Red Bank High School so he could play football with cousins Pat and Ryan McGinnis from 1995-99.
He was a three-year starter for the Lions and was selected the Region 8-5A Quarterback of the Year in 1997. Barnes also was a two-time All-City pick.
Barnes signed a football scholarship with UT-Chattanooga and was with the Mocs from 1999-02. He served as a student assistant, helping coach tight ends, from April 2003 to December 2004
A two-time letter-winner at UTC, Barnes started “five or six” games his sophomore and junior seasons, once tying school and Southern Conference records with six touchdown passes in a game.
He quickly rose to the top of Soddy-Daisy’s shopping list.
“We had more applicants than I could count,” Maynard said, “but we narrowed them down to 15 serious candidates. We whittled that list to two and then got our coach. We’ve known this for a while, but had to get through a bunch of (Human Resource) stuff. The process takes time to get through and choose who you hope is the right person, and I think we have that person.”
The two finalists – Soddy-Daisy graduate Tom Elliott was the second – were brought in for a second round of interviews before a final decision was made.
“Through the whole thing it kept coming to the top that Justin had great character,” Maynard said. “The high school coach he worked for and that school’s athletic director both felt like Justin was ready to become a head coach. His organizational skills came through real strong, and that was impressive. And, he had a real willingness to come to Soddy-Daisy and take over this program.
“He worked hard to get the job.”
Barnes considers himself an offense-minded coach, but was exposed to defense while at Oconee County High. While there, Barnes, and the other assistants, had primary and secondary coaching duties. So, he coached quarterbacks and helped with defensive backs.
“But, I’m definitely an offensive guy,” said Barnes, who hopes to take over his duties at Soddy-Daisy by Feb. 11 and start preparing for spring practice in May. “That’s my mind-set.”
Barnes will use the spread offense at Soddy-Daisy, using a base package that he’s used for several years with the ability to tweak the scheme toward the Soddy-Daisy players’ skill-set.
“I don’t want to get totally out of our scheme, but there are ways to adapt to the players we have, and I haven’t seen much film and don’t know exactly what we do have,” he said. “If we have a great quarterback and good receivers, we’ll throw it a lot more. If we have a young quarterback and don’t want to put a lot of pressure on him, we may be more like Auburn and Clemson and use more of a power game.”
Barnes is well aware of the Trojans’ struggles the past few years, but neither Maynard nor Henry were concentrating on the past during the selection process, and that turned out to be another selling point for the program.
“I know they’ve been through some tough times,” Barnes said. “But all during the process, those guys up there didn’t focus on what’s wrong. They focused on how I would like to run things, how we will work together and we’re all looking ahead.
“I want our program to be No. 1 in everything in not just the county but state. I want Soddy-Daisy to be the envy of the county with our success. That’s what we’ll all work to do.”
Orr resigned in November after four years directing the Trojans’ football program. He had an 18-24 record with one winning season (7-5) in 2010. Soddy-Daisy reached the state playoffs that season for the first time in two years.
Under Orr, the Trojans went 5-5 in 2009, 4-6 in 2011 and 1-8 in 2012 while competing in District 5-AAA. The Trojans lost their final six games last season and finished 1-5 in last place in district play.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)