With the naming of offensive coordinator John Grass as Jacksonville State’s new coach Tuesday night -- and his formal introduction Thursday -- many on the JSU roster will be playing for their third head coach in 14 months.
The older of the players came into the program under Jack Crowe, fired after 13 seasons in 2012; played last season under Bill Clark, who resigned this week to take the UAB job; and now are Gamecocks under Grass. But the players anticipate an easy transition.
“Hiring (Grass) from inside the system takes away some of the newness,” rising senior center Max Holcombe said. “You don’t have to learn a new system. You don’t have to learn how he operates. That factor alone is a great for us. You don’t have to learn what he likes and what he does not like.”
Actually, players such as Holcombe, rising junior tight end Luke Smith and rising senior linebacker linebacker Ben Endress have gotten used to such changes.
Holcombe played for three head coaches in high school as well. Endress compared the current situation to his senior year at Clay County High where the head coach left for a bigger school and was replaced by its offensive coordinator.
“We had to step up as seniors then and lead,” he said, “and I feel like that’s part of my job now as a senior at Jax State.”
Perhaps no one on the roster has transitioned to new coaches more than Smith. He will be working under his fifth head coach in as many years, some because they moved on and some because he did.
“I try to stay positive about it and know what I can do, and I feel I can be able to play for any coach,” he said. “It is a tough transition to go from coach to coach each year because you never feel comfortable, but I’m very comfortable with Coach Grass coming in.”
President Bill Meehan said he could see the joy on the players’ faces when the trustees disclosed to them that Grass had the job.
There were differences in the way the change came about. Crowe’s resignation came swiftly after a meeting in December and the administration had time to conduct a reasonable search. It took 19 days to hire Clark, allowing plenty of time for the new staff to salvage the recruiting class.
This time, the Clark-to-UAB story developed three weeks before signing day, but it certainty lingered, leaving a feeling of uncertainty for players and administrators.
Clark made it official late Tuesday afternoon, and within hours, JSU announced Grass as the new head coach.
“The team last year went through some things with the hire,” Endress said. “Nobody knew what was going on, and I think the quicker they acted (this time) we stayed together really good. We picked right back up where we left off.
“The mind state of some of the guys kind of hurt us some but everybody was a little frustrated, didn’t know what was going on. We were confused, really. We got a lot of respect for Coach Clark when he came and talked to us, and everybody was happy when coach Grass was hired.”
The change could have been particularly difficult for Smith, who got around Thursday’s news conference with the help of a crutch. He played all of this past season with a hip injury and likely won’t go through spring practice while he mends. A new head coach unfamiliar with the tight end’s productivity might not be as patient as one with Grass’ familiarity of the player.
Smith played in all 15 games last season, catching seven passes for 62 yards.
The veteran plays that it was a bigger transition by far than going from Crowe to Clark. Compared to that, this should be as easy as giving it to DaMarcus James with one yard to gain.
“It was two different mentalities, but going from Coach Clark to Coach Grass is not much of a change,” Holcombe said. “This will probably be the easiest once I’ve had. Having Coach Grass at the helm I don’t have to learn a new offense. That’s a big plus for me. I think this coaching change will be the easiest.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.