Joe Medley: JSU takes good risk with Grass
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
Jan 21, 2014 | 3591 views |  0 comments | 37 37 recommendations | email to a friend | print
John Grass coached at Oxford before moving to the Jacksonville State staff this past season. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
John Grass coached at Oxford before moving to the Jacksonville State staff this past season. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
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We know the future of Jacksonville State football. It’s back to the future, with a former Oxford High coach taking over the program.

Sound familiar, JSU fans?

It worked out pretty well with Bill Burgess.

JSU announced John Grass’ promotion nearly five hours after releasing statements from President Bill Meehan and Athletics Director Warren Koegel marking the resignation of Bill Clark, who accepted UAB’s offer to become the Blazers’ head coach.

After one record-setting season as Clark’s offensive coordinator and assistant head coach, Grass emerged in a refreshingly quick coaching search.

Why wait and fuss if you know you have something good?

Yes, it’s a risk to hire a head coach who has one year of college experience, but it was a risk to give Clark his college head-coaching shot after five years as South Alabama’s defensive coordinator.

That worked out well, too. In one season on the job, Clark led JSU to an 11-4 season and the Gamecocks’ first two playoff victories since stepping up from Division II in 1992.

Now, JSU turns to another alum whose background came mostly in Alabama high schools.

Clark led Class 6A Prattville to a run as one of the state’s top programs. Grass was Alabama’s 6A coach of the year at Spain Park in 2007 and led Oxford to the 2011 state semifinals, the school’s deepest playoff run in 6A.

Clark competed against Grass on the high school level and knew Grass’ history as an offensive innovator. That’s why Clark hired Grass at JSU a year ago, and there’s no arguing the results -- 49 school records, 13 Ohio Valley Conference records and three NCAA records.

The Gamecocks blew past school records for total yards (by 1,755) and points (by 107).

It’s enough for JSU to take a chance, and JSU is a program that must take chances.

The school has one of the finer stadiums in Football Championship Subdivision, thanks to 4-year-old improvements, but paid Clark $175,000 a year. Assistants made a lot less.

That’s a big reason Clark had to listen when an opening emerged at UAB, an FBS program but a program with iffy support from its power structure and a history of changing a coach’s career trajectory for the worse. He needs three years to qualify for full benefits in Alabama’s retirement system, and pensions are based on the three highest-paid years out of the last 10.

More pay is also one reason most of Clark’s assistants are expected to follow his invitation to join him at UAB.

Yet Clark and his staff showed what can be done at JSU, and Grass’ offense was among that staff’s biggest successes.

Grass also had a year to see how Clark runs practices, one of the subtle secrets to their success.

Like Clark, Grass has connections throughout the state’s recruiting market. There’s every reason to believe Grass can maintain the badly needed progress Clark made on those relationships, and Grass’ first task as head coach will be to entertain the 18 recruits scheduled to visit campus this weekend.

JSU had to move quickly and could because it had a good option in hand.

Now, one year after leaving 2013 Mr. Football Racean Thomas behind at Oxford, Grass finds his reward with a well-earned shot to be a college head coach.

Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, jmedley@annistonstar.com. On Twitter @jmedley_star.
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