North Gwinnett has hired Mill Creek defensive coordinator and former Etowah head man Bill Stewart as its football coach.
Stewart was to be introduced to North Gwinnett players Friday morning. He said he wasn’t pursuing head-coaching jobs but was approached and encouraged by friends in the Bulldogs’ program to replace Bob Sphire, who took the head-coaching job at Camden County.
‘’I look at what they’ve done not only athletically but also academically, and it’s just a top-notch school in the state,’’ Stewart said. “The opportunity presented itself. I have some relationships over there, and one thing led to another.’’
Stewart’s time at Mill Creek represents the best three-year run in school history. The Hawks were 33-6 in that span with 13-1 finishes the past two seasons, winning the school’s first outright region titles. They also won a share of a region title in 2013.
‘’As far as what Mill Creek has done, it’s been an unbelievable place for my family and myself, and we love it dearly,’’ said Stewart, who was to meet with Mill Creek players Friday morning before heading over to North Gwinnett. “I had a lot of growth there. But we’re also excited about this new opportunity to run an elite program in the state.’’
Stewart’s Mill Creek defenses racked up 12 shutouts in three seasons and were dominating against the run. Opponents have averaged less than 40 yards rushing each of the past two seasons, both concluding in the semifinals. The 2016 group was one of the state’s top defenses despite returning only two starters.
‘’The biggest thing is the culture,’’ Stewart said of the defensive success. “We had a bunch of kids that bought in to what we were doing. That’s credit to everybody on the staff. We were basing it out of a 4-3, and there are some schemes involved, but it’s mostly kids getting on the same page and doing their jobs.’’
Under Sphire, North Gwinnett became one of the first programs statewide to adopt a full-fledged, pass-first spread offense. Five North Gwinnett quarterbacks have received some all-state recognition since 2006. Stewart said he expected his offenses to be similar, but he wouldn't neglect the run.
‘’We’ll be a well-balanced group,’’ Stewart said. “We’re going to make sure our athletes are getting the ball. That’s the main key. So we’ll have a lot of spread involved. It may not look completely similar to what Bob did, but we definitely will have a power game, a passing game and some run-pass options, those kinds of things.’’
Stewart was Etowah’s coach from 2006 to 2011. His record was 41-26. Etowah reached the playoffs in all six of Stewart’s seasons and claimed three region titles. Stewart left Etowah to help open a school in Alabama as head coach and athletics director. He returned to Georgia in 2013 at Jackson County High as director of safety, security and athletics.
Stewart was Parkview’s defensive coordinator from 2003 to 2005, when Parkview was 34-7. Two members of North Gwinnett’s current staff played at Parkview when Stewart was there. They are freshman head coach Kyle McKee and running backs coach Todd Faulkner.
North Gwinnett was 110-28 in 11 seasons under Sphire. The past two seasons have been a struggle, though, with finishes of 6-5 and 5-5.
The team will return quarterback Cade Fortin, who is committed to Texas A&M, and offensive lineman Warren Ericson, a first-team all-state pick last season.
‘’We’ve got some strong junior league [teams] coming too,’’ Stewart said. “I’m definitely excited about that. And I think there’s talent there right now that’s ready to go.’’