When Joey King stepped down as Cartersville High's head football coach in January, the logical next step was to promote defensive coordinator Conor Foster to replace him. The administration followed …
When Joey King stepped down as Cartersville High's head football coach in January, the logical next step was to promote defensive coordinator Conor Foster to replace him. The administration followed through with that decision, but it meant leaving a huge void on the offensive side of the ball.
King, who many would consider among the brightest offensive minds in the state, left for an assistant coaching job at Coastal Carolina following five incredibly successful seasons leading the Canes. Having served as the de facto offensive coordinator during his time at Cartersville, which included a pair of state titles, King left some large shoes to fill in that capacity, as well.
Shoes big enough that it apparently takes two former offensive linemen to fill them.
At first glance, the decision to promote assistant coaches Reggie Perkins and Dusty Phillips to the roles of co-offensive coordinators might seem like a strange one. Two individuals trying to accomplish one job could lead to a power struggle that causes a rift throughout a program, but a deeper look shows why there's no two coaches better equipped to handle this unique situation than Perkins and Phillips.
First of all, the coaches have known each other for nearly two decades. They were teammates along the offensive front at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tennessee, blocking for their future head coach, King, who played quarterback.
“We’ve known each other and been friends for a really long time,” said Perkins, a three-time all-American selection with the Eagles. “That definitely will make it easier.”
Before coming to Cartersville, each of them worked as an offensive coordinator at previous coaching stops. Perkins held the position at South Paulding and Rome sandwiched around a stint as offensive line coach at Reinhardt. Meanwhile, Phillips led the offense at Sullivan South in Kingsport, Tennessee, ahead of taking the OC job at Woodstock-based River Ridge.
Perkins joined the Canes in 2015 as the offensive line coach with Phillips coming on board a year later. Phillips has spent the past few years guiding the tight ends, including Jackson Lowe, who enrolled for the spring semester at Tennessee.
All of the time spent together at Carson-Newman in the early part of the 2000s; the shared experiences of leading offenses at high levels; and familiarity with the Cartersville football program made the decision one that Foster fully supports.
“Those two guys have been friends for a long time,” Foster said. “It’s a very natural fit. Both of them are very humble, hardworking men.
“I think they appreciate this opportunity that they get to share and realize the unique opportunity to do it together. It’s just been fun to watch them grow both individually and collectively. I’m excited about how their relationship will continue to grow and how it will impact our program moving forward.”
It took barely more than a week for Cartersville to announce Foster would be replacing King as the head coach. The next order of business became finding the program's next offensive coordinator to lead a group headlined by Louisville commit Tee Webb, a rising senior quarterback.
Perkins and Phillips are among the most respected coaches on staff, and their importance to the program, even in their former capacity, cannot be understated. Each one would have had plenty of offers to be an offensive coordinator elsewhere, meaning choosing one over the other for the Canes OC position would have likely led to the other leaving sooner rather than later.
It led to them brokering the topic of becoming co-coordinators.
“Both of us wanted that opportunity,” Phillips said. “Our relationship, our friendship is strong enough that we didn’t want that to run the other one off. I told coach Foster, ‘I don’t want to be offensive coordinator if coach Perkins is not here coaching the offensive line.’ … It gave us the opportunity to kind of pitch being co-coordinators. I think it’s going to work out great in the fact that we each get to look at different parts of what we do. Instead of one guy being spread so thin, we’re going to have two sets of eyes on things.”
Once the decision had been made to promote Perkins and Phillips, one of the first things they did was pay a visit to the most well-known co-offensive coordinators in the country.
Since taking the joint position within the Clemson football program, Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott have helped the Tigers to a 56-4 record and two national titles. The pair had worked together on staff for a few years before becoming co-coordinators ahead of the 2014 Russell Athletic Bowl.
Certainly having the likes of Deshaun Watson and former Canes star Trevor Lawrence at signal-caller has helped Clemson achieve great things over the past few years, but the combination of Scott and Elliott continues to lead the Tigers to new heights.
Getting to make the trip to Clemson served a few purposes for the Cartersville coaches. However, being able to learn from two of the best in the business on how to navigate the co-offensive coordinators scenario topped the list.
“That was the main reason for us making the trip over there,” Perkins said. “It was really eye-opening, just seeing how they handle different things. It definitely gave us a glimpse into what to expect.”
Obviously, the situations won't mirror each other exactly. College coaches have to also balance recruiting duties, while those at the high school level must keep one eye on the youth developing at the lower ends of the program.
“Every situation is unique,” Foster said. “The reason I feel so confident in this situation is that they’re both great coaches. …
“I think their situation is similar to the deal at Clemson. The two guys at Clemson have worked with each other for a while, so there’s definitely a mutual respect. I think it was cool to get to sit down to talk with those guys to see how they pieced it all together. Like I said, each situation is unique, so we’ll have to figure out what works best for our guys. But it was definitely a good starting place.”
One of the most important jobs Perkins and Phillips have in the short term is figuring out who handles what responsibilities. Both will maintain their positional coaching roles, while Phillips also doubles as the program's recruiting coordinator.
The spring practice schedule, which concludes Friday, has given the pair a first glimpse at how the dynamic will work.
“Anytime when you’re working in a new role where you’re sharing responsibilities, obviously, trying to get ironed out who does what, there’s a couple of bumps in the road,” Phillips said. “But I think it’s been as smooth it could possibly be. I respect coach Perkins a great deal. He’s the best offensive line coach in the business. When he talks about that stuff, his word goes.
“I feel like we’ve had some great board sessions, challenging each other and talking about how we want to do things. It’s caused a lot of professional growth for both of us.”
He also has seen a concrete plan start to develop in regards to how the offense will look come fall.
“We’re starting to really get an idea of what our identity is going to be,” Phillips said. “We’re starting to figure out who is going to go where, how the puzzle pieces kind of fit, how we’ve divided up assignments, and who is responsible for what — not just really on the coaches’ end but also on the players’ end.”
Perkins felt that other obligations within the school and his coaching of the Cartersville golf program has kept the duo from really getting to hammer out some specifics. Although, he feels like the Canes have achieved what they need to this spring.
That being said, there's still plenty to finalize over the summer, and Perkins is certainly looking forward to that.
“I’m excited about it,” he said. “We’ll have time to sit down, get everything ironed out and make sure we’re on the same page with everything. We’ve kind of got it together this spring. … But then we’ll be able to sit down together — before workouts and after workouts — to get everything hashed out so everybody is on the same page and we’re ready to roll.”
It's hard to envision any slippage on the defensive side of things with Foster in charge, meaning much of Cartersville's success will hinge on the offense. Due to the nature of two coaches being asked to take over for an offensive guru, the onus will be on Perkins and Phillips to continue the recent success to which Canes fans have become accustomed.
Foster, for one, believes the offense is in two sets of extremely capable hands.
“There’s obviously a little bit of a learning curve any time you’ve got transition on the staff,” Foster said. “That starts with me being the new head coach, still trying to manage also being defensive coordinator and leaning on guys on our staff in different ways.
“Those two guys have spent a lot of time behind the scenes not only trying to figure out the scheme but also figuring out the dynamic of them sharing their responsibilities. I’m proud of the work they’ve put in and look forward to continued growth out of those two guys.”