Most first-year head coaches don't start off with the type of success that Brad Gordon enjoyed this fall.
A 10-win season, an upset of the No. 1 team in the state and a trip to the Class A Public state semifinals were all banners the Mount Zion High School head football coach can put on his resume.
But the 2017 Times-Georgian All-Area Coach of the Year knows that it's more than just him that keeps the wheels turning at MZ. He'll be the first to give all the credit to his staff for the historic run the Eagles just experienced.
"I was lucky to inherit a good staff from coach (Keith) Holloway," Gordon said. "Since we've been here, the heart of the staff has stayed together. We were also able to add David Thrower and Rhett Robinson, who are two well-experienced coaches who are respected all throughout Georgia. This staff has grown as a family and anytime you have continuity for that period of time, it makes a big difference."
With that familiarity with each other and the returning players, it was business as usual for the first-year head coach as there was no real need for any dramatic changes entering the 2017 campaign.
"Our philosophy has been, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it,' and that's kind of how we went about things," Gordon said. "The coordinators stayed the same and I still offered my hand with the defense. Most of the time I didn't even have to worry about the offensive side of the ball because I knew my staff was going to take care of business."
Not only did Gordon's coaches take care of business, but his players did, as well.
With a variety of veteran leaders, including C.J. Ledbetter, Kareem Walker, Iaan "Mike-Mike" Cousin and 2017 Times-Georgian All-Area MVP C.J. Ackles, the Eagles soared all the way to the verge of a Class A Public state championship game.
With the players he had on hand, Gordon understood how far his team could go if they followed a few simple philosophies for each game.
"Keep running the football, keep playing good defense and keep it close to give ourselves a chance to win. That's what we did in every game this year," Gordon said. "Unfortunately, three of them didn't end up going our way, but in every ballgame we had a chance to win in the fourth quarter."
Throughout Gordon's tenure at MZ as both an assistant and now a head coach, he's witnessed the program ascend to new heights once unfathomable for Eagle football. The head coach cites the raising of the bar over the last few years as a result of 100 percent buy-in from the players, particularly in the weight room.
"It starts with our offseason programs and Justin Joyner does a great job with the weight program. When we first came there a few years ago, it was like pulling teeth in the weight room to get the kids to buy in. Now I have coaches getting to me after games wanting to talk about our weight program on top of the back-to-back state weightlifting titles," Gordon said.
"Our physical style of football starts in the weight program. We're not the biggest, by any means, and when we went down to Clinch County, they outweighed us across the board. But our kids have stayed in every ballgame because of their strength and conditioning. The kids have bought in year-round and we've really reaped the benefits when August rolls around and the season starts."
The foundation is now established at Mount Zion — and not just with the football program, but across all sports as evidenced by the Lady Eagle softball team also making it to their respective Class A Public state semifinal this fall.
Gordon is certainly proud to preside over an exciting era at MZ and cannot wait to continue to push the boundary and put the school on the map.
"When I first came here, we used to say that Mount Zion was the best kept secret. Well, I think the secret's out. There's a pride in our communities, in our halls and in our programs," Gordon said. "We want to go to the next level. We want to go one step further next year and make it to the championship to see what that's like. That's our goal and we continuously want to take the program one more step further."