A Muscogee County School District head football coach has been fired.
Despite reaching the first round of the state playoffs in his only year at Spencer, Justin Newman won’t coach the Greenwave next season after the team went 3-8 in 2018.
Responding to the Ledger-Enquirer’s inquiry Monday, MCSD athletics director Jeff Battles emailed this statement from the district’s communication’s director, Mercedes Parham:
“Head Football Coach Justin Newman has been relieved of his football coaching duties at Spencer High School. We are thankful for the time and commitment he demonstrated, in this role, to Spencer this past year and wish him much success in his future endeavors. The District will follow its standard hiring procedures to assign a new Head Football Coach to Spencer High School.”
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Battles said MCSD principals make the hiring and firing decisions about their coaches and he acts as only an adviser if the principal requests his input. He referred the Ledger-Enquirer’s further questions to Spencer principal Johnny Freeman.
In a phone interview, Freeman told the L-E, “We just felt like we needed to make a change. We sit down at the end of the year with all the coaches, whether it’s football or basketball or anything else and assess things.”
Asked why he thinks changing the head football coach is necessary, Freeman said Newman didn’t violate any policy but the win/loss record isn’t the only factor.
Freeman declined to be specific but said, “You also look at are the kids moving in the right direction and how they comport themselves on and off the field and in the classroom.”
Newman, who teaches physical education but doesn’t coach any other sports at Spencer, still is on the faculty.
As for hiring Newman’s successor, Freeman said, “I hope to have someone in place by the end of the month.”
Newman told the L-E in a phone interview that he’s thankful for the opportunity Freeman gave him.
“I would have liked to still keep going after making the playoffs,” Newman said, “but if someone doesn’t want you there, I’m not the type of person who’s going to force my way.”
Newman was hired at Spencer last spring as the offensive coordinator after being fired from his first head football coaching job, at Jordan, where the Red Jackets went 2-18 in his two seasons there. But he was promoted in May to be Spencer’s head coach after Pierre Coffey became assistant principal at Baker Middle School.
Coffey led the Greenwave to a 19-15 record in his three seasons there. They qualified for the state playoffs all three seasons, advancing as far as the second round in 2015.
Following a popular and successful coach, as well as getting the head job relatively late in a football program’s yearly cycle, are tough circumstances to overcome, Newman noted.
“Coffey, he’s a legend here,” he said. “They had things how he did it and then how I did it. … You don’t know how students behave in school, and you’re learning that on the fly.”
Newman wouldn’t specify the differences in coaching styles, but he did say losing three straight games in the final seconds, including to archrival Carver, compounded the problem.
“I felt like it was more of an interim thing here for me than a true gig,” Newman said. “… But I truly enjoyed it. I love the kids. My goal now is to get our banquet done and all my seniors signed.”
Newman, a 2002 graduate from Shaw, signed a baseball scholarship with Georgia State, where he was a pitcher and outfielder. He pitched in 2006 for the Cincinnati Reds organization in the rookie Gulf Coast League. Now, he is mulling the possibility of pursuing coaching positions beyond MCSD.
“I’ve had people calling me about being a coordinator for them,” he said. “I told them to give me time because I have to think about moving my family.”
Spencer is the second high school in Columbus searching for a head football coach. The Ledger-Enquirer reported in November that Mark LeGree resigned at Pacelli despite improving the Vikings from 0-10 to 4-6 in his two seasons there.
Pacelli athletics director Corry Black told the L-E Monday, “We are talking to candidates every day. We hopefully will wrap this search up in the next two weeks. We have a lot of very qualified candidates.”
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.