CHATSWORTH, Ga. - There were times David Gann could only guess what he was doing wrong.
Despite 17 years of experience and a coaching resume that included top assistant jobs at Northwest Whitfield and Ringgold and a graduate assistant position at the University of Tennessee, Gann always found himself the runner-up when head coaching jobs opened in the area.
"I applied for several jobs and it seems I always finished in the top two," said Gann, now able to laugh about the process that finally landed him at three-year-old North Murray High School. "Things happen for a reason, I guess. I'm just blessed to be here. It's a great fit for me and the community, and the players just want to win. I've really lucked out."
The Mountaineers, 1-19 in two varsity seasons, may feel they're the lucky ones. A surprising 3-0 start under Gann and the unique collection of experience and youth on his coaching staff already has erased memories of last season's 0-10 record.
They enter play in Region 5-AAA tonight against preseason favorite Cartersville with a new game plan and an attitude that stresses the positive.
"There's a lot more intensity here, and every week we seem to be more prepared than the other team we're facing," said senior tailback Jacob Mays, part of the three-headed rushing attack that also features quarterback Brady Swilling and fullback Christian Buckle. "It's the conditioning and the X's and O's and it's attitude, and most of it comes from the coaching staff."
It wasn't that cheerful when the school's administration decided to replace the previous head coach, Larry Cornelius, after only two seasons. The players weren't receptive to the idea, and some in the community questioned the move. Those doubts seem like a decade ago, according to Mays.
"I didn't want to play for anybody else, and Coach Gann came in and wanted to change a lot of things," Mays said. "I had my doubts about it - a lot of us did - but I'm glad I stuck with it. We've worked really hard since the spring, and we see now that it's paying off.
"A year ago, when we played a good team like Calhoun we never felt we had a chance," Mays added, "but this year going against a good team like Cartersville, everybody feels we can play with them. That's a big difference."
Gann takes little credit for the turnaround. He talks about a staff that includes former head coaches Don Murray and Ron Wheeler, who was the head coach at Northwest Whitfield when Gann was an assistant, and about the lessons learned from apprenticeship years.
"You take a little bit of something from all those guys you work under," Gann said. "Ron Wheeler taught me to calm down and be patient with teenagers who have a lot of things going on in their lives. At UT under Coach [Phillip] Fulmer I learned about organization and how to run a program. In my six years under Robert Akins at Ringgold, I learned how to deal with all the outside stuff."
Akins never understood why his pupil never got the chance, but he knew once he did that success would follow.
"The first thing with David is he's very personable and will do anything for the kids," Akins said. "The other thing is he has a great work ethic. He was the one person here I could always count on to get a job done, no matter what it was. He also has a great knowledge of the game.
"I couldn't understand why someone wouldn't give him a shot. I know what he did for me here, and I expressed that to all of them. I guess they had other agendas or politics got involved. I'm at a loss at that, but I am thankful they gave him a job at North Murray. I know one thing, you better be worried to play against them."