LaFAYETTE, Ga. — On a day when many of the nation's students participated in a walkout, Paul Ellis was already urging students at LaFayette High School to make another walk.
The school's new football coach wants Ramblers young and old, big and small to walk onto the field this spring to help turn around a program that hasn't won more than three games since 2011.
Ellis, 50, was introduced Wednesday morning after a lengthy interview process that began with 115 applicants. He comes from Alabama's Fort Payne High School, where in 14 years his teams had a record of 109-48 and won six region championships. He also coached at two other high schools in that state — Valley Head and Section.
"We've got to come out here this spring as coaches and get these kids excited about football," said Ellis, whose Fort Payne teams made 11 playoff appearances. "That's my immediate goal. I always say this to my kids: Success isn't always at the beginning measured in wins and losses. We are here to win, don't get me wrong, but it will be a process."
LaFayette principal Tracy Hubbert said the school did its due diligence in its hiring process, first trimming the candidates to 12 and then going through two rounds of interviews. Each time Ellis made a good impression.facebook
"He stood out because he's a proven winner and he was our top-rated candidate after the first two rounds of interviewing, so he was the best fit for our school," Hubbert said. "It's hard to argue with a proven track record of success in a school very similar to LaFayette."
The coach and his new boss each said the ultimate goal is to produce a team that is competitive on an annual basis. First, though, each wants to establish a foundation based on effort.
"It all starts in the weight room," Ellis said. "I'm a big, big weight room guy, and that's non-negotiable."
Added Hubbert: "The winning will be a by-product of the things he's going to instill in the players, like the work and accountability he will demand in the weight room. That's an area, honestly, where we haven't done too well in the past. He told the players up front what the expectations are, and they will either rise up and meet it or they will choose not to participate at all."
To that end, Ellis plans to immediately reach out to students and parents on all levels.
"There is no magical potion for getting the kids out," he said. "You just have to be out in the community and talk to the youth programs and the kids. Kids are going to remember their coach, especially at a youth age, either as 'Yes, that's my coach', or 'No, I didn't like that guy.' You want to be that coach the kids remember."
Contact Lindsey Young at email@example.com or 423-757-6296. Follow on Twitter @youngsports22.