Michael Perry, a 2002 Gainesville graduate, interviewed for the head football coaching job at Centennial two years ago, but the administrators decided to go with Lenny Gregory's experience. Now, it's Perry's turn.
Perry, a former assistant coach at Gainesville and Coffee, took over as head coach at Centennial after the 2016 season, when Gregory moved to Collins Hill. He inherits a team that went 8-3 last season after a 5-5 record in Gregory's first year at the school.
Perry said the new job already has brought perspective on what it's like to be the head man.
“Going from an assistant to a head coach, it is quite an experience," he said. "Sometimes it seems like football is the least of my concerns. You are just pulled in so many different directions. You meet with the booster club. You have to make sure the standards that you set for your program ... that the kids are behaving and they are doing right in the classroom. For me, when I was a coordinator, I had to worry about offense. Now it is a whole different ballgame.”
This might be his first head coaching job, but Perry brings a lot of experience to the program. He has been an assistant for 11 years and has a solid record for coaching quarterbacks.
From 2006-2015, Perry was the quarterbacks coach for Gainesville High School. From 2015-16, Perry coached at Coffee. During his time at Gainesville, he saw plenty of talent come through the program, including Clemson’s national championship quarterback, Deshaun Watson. In 2012, Watson led Gainesville to the program’s first state title since 1925, defeating Ware County 49-13 after losing the last two games of the regular season. It was Perry’s only state title as an assistant.
The talent pool that Perry hopes to cultivate looks vast. Centennial is losing quarterback Casen Conway but will have several players on offense returning, including all-region running back Cal Dickie and all-region receiver Blaine Mason.
That's good news for Perry, an offensive specialist. Centennial scored almost 40 points per game in 2016 before losing in the first round of the playoffs to Northgate. It marked just the third time in program history, dating to 1997, that Centennial had eight victories (8-3). It was also the fifth playoff appearance in school history.
Coach Perry discussed his change Tuesday during a telephone interview:
Q. What were your first memories of Deshaun Watson?
A. My first memories of Deshaun go back before he was at Gainesville. He was maybe 6 or 7 years old at the time. Me and my twin brother were camp counselors -- I think it was our junior or senior year at Gainesville -- and he was a camper. He was just a little scrawny thing, and he would not say a word. In fact, his older brother, Dedrick, was really flamboyant and loved to talk and play around. But little Deshaun would not say a word. You almost had to twist his arm to get him to speak. Deshaun was only able to come to the last couple of practices that ,but we had a mock draft. We divided the teams and the coaches got to pick. My very first pick was Deshaun Watson. All the other coaches were giving me a hard time because, at the time, we had A.J. Johnson, who played at Tennessee, and we always had some really good players. But I picked Deshaun first and caught heck. But you know what? With only a few days of practice, Deshaun’s team won that scrimmage over A.J. Johnson’s team. So that says a lot for a 7-year-old.
Q. What would you consider a success after your first year?
A. What I would consider a success is that the out-going seniors, even though I had them for one year, look back and say, “Man, coach Perry and his staff really instilled some things in me that I can carry the rest of my life. I formed some bonds here that will remain with me forever.” To me, that is success. I have won a state title as an assistant, and that is great and everything. But making sure that kids, boys, turn into responsible and upstanding men. That is why I do this. That is way more important. I mean, realistically, I could go around and ask, “Hey, who won the state title in 2012?” and very few people could tell you. But you know, I know what is important. Winning is important, but it is not the most important thing. I feel like if you do everything the right way, that extra stuff takes care of itself.
Q. Tell me about your relationship with the Centennial fan base so far.
A. I feel that Centennial is just desperate to become more known for football. It is a place that has never, you could honestly say, has never been consistently been a football power by any means. They want Centennial football to be known throughout the state. The support from parents and staff has been outstanding.
Q. Do you see the talent there to make Centennial a powerhouse program down the line?
A. We definitely have talent. I never really talk about championships and all that. Because when you do that, you’re not focused on a day. We are focused on the present, right now. We have to be the best that we can be, right now in this moment.
Q. If you had a message to the fan base?
A. I would tell them that I expect them to be there on Friday nights and if you can still talk and still be able to have your voice when the clock says 00:00 then you did not do your job. I am looking forward to filling those stands up and letting them see what a great group of kids and young men that we have in our program. And I think it will be an exciting brand of football, also.