GAINESVILLE — In 2010, Josh Niblett found himself jogging down Green Street during a break from the QBR Camp he was helping run at Riverside Military Academy.
The smell of bacon from Longstreet Cafe wafted in the air just before he ran past iconic City Park Stadium.
The Hoover High (Ala.) coach at the time, Niblett -- whose nationally-recognized program played at The Hoover Met, home of the Birmingham Barons minor league baseball team -- suddenly found himself stationary, taking in the view of one of Georgia’s oldest high school stadiums.
“I thought back then, ‘how cool is that to have in a community,’” Niblett said during a sit-down interview with Gainesville media on Monday. “You had that breakfast smell from Longstreet and then this beautiful stadium. Then I saw a Mellow Mushroom, my favorite place to eat, almost all of this stuff right next door to each other. It hits you hard.”
More than a decade later, Niblett, after guiding the Buccaneers to 6 state championships in 14 seasons in the Birmingham suburb, will get to do it Groundhog Day-style if he likes.
Niblett was introduced Monday as the Red Elephants’ 20th head football coach in the program’s 108-year history.
At Hoover, Niblett amassed a 171-26 record (92-8 in region play and 49-8 in the state playoffs) while leading the Bucs to the semifinals every season. Before that, he spent three years at Oxford (Ala.) and five at Oneonta (Ala.) and led Oneonta to a 51-14 overall record and the Class 3A state championship in 2004.
“Coach Niblett’s resume speaks for itself,” Gainesville High Athletic Director Adam Lindsey said. “We have the third-winningest program in Georgia high school football history, and that’s a storied history. Our goal has been, and will always be, to build on being among the best to ever do it and coach Niblett fits right in with that mindset.”
“If you told me two weeks I wouldn’t be at Hoover anymore, I probably wouldn’t have believed you,” Niblett said. “But after getting into the community and seeing the people involved, I was sold.”
However, leaving a program like Hoover -- Alabama’s equivalent of Valdosta -- is never easy.
“That was emotional for sure,” Niblett said. “It was crazy how many texts I got from former players and coaches when I announced I was retiring. It was tough.”
Any lingering doubts were erased when Niblett arrived at the Gainesville campus. The Red Elephants band, cheerleaders, and hundreds of current students and faculty, along with scores of former students and faculty, packed the school’s newest addition to its campus, a state-of-the-art media center and cafe.
“Just unbelievable to see a crowd like that for something like this,” he said. “When I walked into that, I knew I was where I was supposed to be.”
Niblett will teach at Hoover until February 1, then he will officially begin his tenure for the Red Elephants. He admitted that he has seen little actual game film of his soon-to-be team that finished 5-5 this past season and failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
“To be honest, I haven’t watched much film. I don’t need to,” he said. “The first priority is sitting down with the players. No. 2 will be to find out who wants to be here. No. 3 will be getting to know the players.
“This is a program that has had a lot of tradition and standards over the years and we have to get back to that. Tradition never graduates. We have to develop players and grow depth.”
For now, Niblett will be busy with finishing his time at Hoover and coaching in an Under Armour All-America Game in Orlando over the Christmas break. Once Feb. 1 rolls around, expect to see him, well, everywhere.
“We will live in the city. We plan to be a part of the community. You’ll see us at the grocery store, eating out, just being a part of this community. We can’t wait to get started,” he said.