GAINESVILLE — Heath Webb rebuilt a once listless Winder-Barrow football program into a consistent winner.
Now Webb will look to take Gainesville back to the top.
Red Elephants athletic director Adam Lindsey confirmed on Saturday that the school will recommend Webb to become the next head football coach at Gainesville, replacing state championship-winning coach Bruce Miller -- who stepped down from the position in January -- at a board meeting on Tuesday.
"When you sit down and look at what he did at Winder, it made it a no-brainer for us," Lindsey said. "The success he's had there, and the way that he's grown that program year after year, taking them to four straight state playoffs, being the first coach in (25 years) to win a state playoff game with them, he's done an amazing job there, and I'm excited about what he can do for us in the future."
Prior to Webb's arrival in Winder the Bulldoggs had won just six games in six seasons and had not reached the postseason or posted a winning record over the previous 10 campaigns. This season also saw Winder claim its first state playoff win since 1993, finishing as the No. 2 seed in Region 8-AAAAAA, where Gainesville also competes.
"The number one thing we did was install a sense of discipline. Disciplined football teams win, and that can overshadow talent," Webb said Saturday night. "We found ways to win at Winder because we could maintain team discipline and individual discipline. And when you're disciplined you don't get rattled and falter through adversity. When we won games we weren't supposed to win that was a big reason why."
That certainly included this season, when Winder reeled off seven straight victories at the start of the campaign and came within one win of the program's first region title.
"I think it's a very good move for Gainesville," said former Red Elephants coach Bruce Miller, who led the Gainesville to its first GHSA state championship in 2012 and four other state semifinal appearances over 16 seasons and coached against Webb over the last four seasons. "I think he's done a great job at Winder and has established himself in the coaching community. You always know going up against his teams that they would be prepared and well-coached. He took a little bit of talent and took it a long way.
"I hope he takes the program and takes it further than it's ever been."
For Webb it is a dream opportunity.
"It's a big deal. Growing up as a north Georgia guy I always had a strong appreciation for the Gainesville program and what it meant and accomplished," said Webb, who is a 1994 graduate of Habersham Central. "It's one of the jobs that people pay a lot of attention to. I can't wait. It's one of the things my daughters and I have talked about many times driving by City Park that, 'one day maybe dad can coach there.' It's one of the iconic places in Georgia high school football. And even visiting coaches and teams know how big a deal it is. We worked hard to build Winder and do it the right way, and I don't leave Winder for just any job. It was almost a Gainesville-or-nothing deal to leave Winder.
"I hope I can be half the man Bruce Miller is; I have so much respect for him. But I can't be Bruce; I can just be the best me I can be."
That means bringing the work ethic and attitude that has aided Webb's success at places like Winder and North Paulding, where he initiated the program in 2008, coaching All-American and eventual University of Georgia standout Chris Conley.
"I will not be out-worked. I grew up in a blue-collar family that had to fight and scratch for everything," Webb said. "There's no secret recipe for success; I just pride myself in that no one will work harder."
Beyond just working hard, Webb says a sense of accountability is key to his process and what he strives to instill in his programs.
"Our character education program is a big part of what we do, and I think it helps us win ballgames. Football is a preparation game, and what you do in February and March helps you win in September and October," Webb said. "Our character program is a lot of off-field stuff and about working together as a team and sharing thoughts and creating an atmosphere where kids listen but can also be heard. They learn to be accountable to each other and that one person's actions effect the entire team."
Webb also steps into a situation with which he has some familiarity after game-planning against the Red Elephants for the last four years.
"There's always a great talent level at Gainesville, and that's at the top of the list for every coach when looking for new jobs," Webb said. "We're going to lose a lot on offense, but the young talent that's there on defense gives me a sense of comfort that they can step up while we're growing with the offense."
Like the Red Elephants, the Bulldoggs also utilized a spread attack on offense, and Webb plans to continue that system with Gainesville, which went 4-7 in 2017, reaching state for the 18th straight campaign but falling in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight season.
"What we have to do is identify playmakers and adapt the offense to the guys we have," Webb said. "High school coaches have to be able to do that. And we'll get in there and start evaluating talent immediately."
Facing a schedule that opens with Class AAAA semifinalist Mary Persons and includes powers Jefferson and Flowery Branch, as well as an always-difficult 8-AAAAAA slate, Webb knows his new program will have to hit the ground running -- though he's not looking to put a number value on success in 2018.
"When you're Gainesville that's your schedule; it's going to be challenging because not a lot of people have the guts to play you, and the ones that do you know are going to be good," Webb said. "I'm never scared of a challenge and am looking forward to it. For us the measure going forward in year one will be twofold: Are we getting better each week? And how do we deal with adversity?"
Webb says he will interview all current assistants on staff at Gainesville that want to continue, though he may bring in new faces to fill some positions.
"I've worked with some assistant coaches over the years that were just brilliant, and the way we set things up it really becomes our program wherever we are, not my program," Webb said. "I've tried to learn something from each and every one of the coaches I've worked with. And I'm truly grateful.
"I can't wait to get started. It's truly humbling, and I felt the timing was right. I'm always looking for a challenge, and at a program that's so well known... I'm just looking forward to it."