After 29 seasons as a head coach, 307 wins at eight high schools in two states Jeff Herron is done coaching football. After re-injuring a previously surgically repaired knee injury in spring practice and giving much consideration to looking toward the future Herron has retired from coaching.
Herron has coached the last two seasons at T.L. Hanna in Anderson, South Carolina after leaving Grayson High School in 2016.
Herron had two stints in the Oconee County area the first coming as head coach of Oconee County High School head coach, the second coming as head coach at Prince Avenue Christian School.
Herron lived in the area while he was the head coach of Cedar Shoals High School in Athens prior to taking the job at OCHS in 1997.
Herron’s resume is one that has spoken for itself for a long time in the state of Georgia. He stands as the only head coach to win state championships at three different high schools in his career.
With all the accomplishments, Herron still loved coaching. In recent years with his knee injury and the grind, coaching had lost a little bit its excitement for Herron. Heading into T. L. Hanna’s spring practices Herron was considering making the move into retirement, but felt like he had a few more years to carry the whistle but it wasn’t meant to be.
“I was back and forth with it a lot this winter, but I decided that I was going to stay,” Herron said. “I got out there in spring practice and kind of felt I wasn’t doing the best job that I could. I had a little nagging knee injury that I had some surgery on before I came over here and it’s just never quite been right. It was a little more difficult to get around in practice and stuff.”
After tweaking his knee, Herron felt the universe was telling that the time to move on had come.
“I guess I just needed something to nudge me over the edge of retirement,” Herron said with a laugh. “A lot of little things came together this spring that made me feel like it was the right time.”
The decision was a difficult one. Herron has been a football lifer.
Herron delved into the football world for the first time when he was 6-years-old. He played the sport and has coached it for his entire adult life up to this point. Retiring from coaching won’t take Herron away from the sport. He will go from coach to supporting in the coming years.
Herron’s two sons are both coaches and he intends on being around to watch their teams compete in the fall.
“Football has been a huge part of my life since I was 6-years-old,” Herron said. “I absolutely love the game. I love being around it in any form or fashion. I loved summer camps and two-a-days and all that stuff even when I was a player. No question, I’m worried about not having as much involvement with that. I’m still going to be around it, just not to the extent that I have been.”
Herron won’t miss the pressure of high-level high school football.
What he will miss is the relationships players and coaches share year after year and even into the years after their high school days are over.
“I think because I put so much pressure on myself to win and winning was just expected that I don’t think I’m going to miss that on Friday nights,” Herron said. “I don’t know that I’ll miss the grind of practice. I had kind of gotten to that point where it wasn’t as joyful about it as I used to be. The thing I know I’m going to miss and the thing that I have the hardest time with is the relationships with the players and the relationships with the other coaches and just the comradery and that team feeling. I’ll miss just kind of being able to hang around every day and have fun and goof off and all that kind of stuff.”
Herron carries with him lots of memories of winning football. He’s coached plenty of good players that went on to collegiate fame and into the National Football League.
Before Herron was a statewide commodity as a coach and before the days of winning state championships in the Georgia Dome was the norm, he was an up and coming coach at the head of an up and coming program in Watkinsville.
His time as Warriors’ head coach still gives Herron some of his most memorable moments. Herron still remembers the night he and the Warriors won the program’s lone state championship during the 1999 season.
Herron remembers how much pressure he felt leading the Warriors throughout the season because the Warriors were expecting a good season after eight win and 10 win seasons in Herron’s first two seasons at the school.
The pressure almost overwhelmed Herron. He put pressure on himself each Friday night to the point where a parent warned him that if he didn’t loosen up, the players were going to begin noticing.
“We knew we had a really good team coming back,” Herron said. “I can remember early in the year really having a tremendous amount of personal pressure because we felt like we were good enough to win it all. I remember one of the parents, basically said something to me. He said ‘Jeff, I know you’re under a lot of pressure and I know you think you’ve got a chance, but if you don’t relax a little bit, these kids are going to pick up on that,’ It really helped me.”
The Warriors fulfilled their destiny that season. It’s a memory and time period Herron holds dear.
The atmosphere inside Warrior Stadium the night the Warriors defeated Mount Zion 17-7 still raises the hairs on the back Herron’s neck a little bit and the night has stuck with Herron in the 19 years since.
Herron remembers coming out prior nearly two hours before the game and the stands being completely full. After the game was over he remembers not going to bed until 5 a.m. the next morning. The energy of the night was still stuck to him.
Herron has won four more state championships in the years since between Camden County High and Grayson High School but that night in Watkinsville was a magical one.
“The five state championships were all special and I wouldn’t want to rank one of them ahead of the other,” Herron said. “If I did, I would give Oconee County the nod because it was at home...The stands were full of people. It was over right then. We could have beaten anybody in the NFL that night. It was just a great atmosphere. It’s literally one of the best Friday night atmospheres you could have ever imagined.”
As if his time at OCHS was his rise to the elite levels of high school football, Herron’s time at PACS was his journey onto a different path.
After 13 seasons and three state titles at Camden County, Herron had grown a little bored.
He had taken two programs the heights of their classifications. Football was important in all of the communities Herron had been in.
PACS provided something different. The student-athletes at PACS left a mark on Herron.
For the first time in his career he became the one learning from someone else about the sport.
“I was just kind of tired and bored of what I was doing at Camden County,” Herron said. “Prince Avenue was certainly a different situation and a different place to be. The people there were great and the kids were great. The kids at Prince Avenue didn’t always need football. They had a higher calling in life. The Christian aspect of it all made me a better person.
Herron had reached a different point in his life. He became grandfather while coaching PACS. In his multiple stints in Oconee County Herron has grown to love the people in it even as he has moved on to different areas.
His family history is all over the county. His earliest triumphs took place here. It’s what brings him back for the mini reunion of the 1999 state champion OCHS team.
This year will be the 20th anniversary of that season. Herron has every intention of returning for the ceremony that is scheduled to honor that team.
“We’re looking forward to that, we’ve done it at five years, 10 years and 15 years and we literally have an informal one every year or two where the coaches get together,” Herron said. “I’m looking forward to that...They really love their football [in Oconee County].”