After its most successful season in recent memory, the Smiths Station football team is betting on a coach that did similar work at his previous job to pick up the torch.
The Panthers tabbed Alpharetta (Ga.) High head coach Jason Dukes as successor to Mark Rose, who left for North Jackson (Ala.) in January. The hire is pending approval at next Tuesday’s Lee County board meeting.
Dukes, a graduate of Richmond Academy and former four-year starter at right tackle for Georgia Tech (1991-95), spent 10 years at Alpharetta High, five as offensive line coach and five as head coach.
During his time at the helm, he turned a perennial underachieving program into one of the best in the area. When he took over in 2009, Alpharetta was coming off of two- and three-win seasons, respectively, and no playoff appearances in its five years of existence. After a three-win campaign in his first season, the Raiders made the playoffs four straight years, won region titles in 2011 and 2013 and advanced to the second round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs in 2013.
It’s a similar path to the one Rose took at Smiths Station, and Dukes said he is looking forward to continuing to build on the foundation that already exists.
“As I did some digging in, I saw Smiths Station has a long tradition of good football that goes back many years,” he said on Wednesday. “They had a fantastic year last year and have some really good football players. (Rose) did a great job of instilling great work ethic and discipline, and I just believe this program is poised to take the next step and challenge yearly for region championships and make noise at state.”
Dukes said it was too early to say specifically what all will change or stay the same with him at Smiths Station. He said he planned to be dynamic offensively — he runs a spread offense and will bring that with him to the Panthers — but that what they do will be tailored specifically to the players currently on roster.
“As a coach, from year to year, every team is different,” he said. “First and foremost, it’s going to be my job to get to know my players and get them to understand my expectations. Then, we want to put our stamp on it.
“We’re going to be a little more dynamic offensively. We will be a spread team. Everyone needs to understand that we’ll mold what we do inside the spread to the type of talent we have. It isn’t an offense in a box. We’ll examine the talent we have and go from there.”
Dukes said that he will meet with all Smiths Station’s current assistant coaches before making any staff decisions. “They deserve the consideration to continue to be a part of the program if they’re interested,” he said, adding that there are assistants at Alpharetta that he’d like to pursue as well.
Speaking about his success at Alpharetta, he credited the players and parents for buying in to his system and remaining patient with the changing culture, something that resonates with Rose’s time at Smiths Station.
“It was a task to change the culture,” Dukes said. “there’s a cost associated with being a winner. It took kids, parents and the community to buy in and commit. We were able to do that in the past three years. We played 22 region games and lost only one. That’s because of the commitment from everyone.”
Rose left Smiths Station after six years at the helm. During his time with the Panthers, they went 34-31, getting over the hump for a berth in the Class 6A state quarterfinals in 2013. The Panthers graduate a number of starters from last season’s team but also return key guys like Nigel Lawrence and Amonte Caban, among others.