Mario Allen has proven he's up to the challenge required as Rockdale County's new football coach.
A former coach at Florida A&M and Alabama A&M, and a former professional football player, Allen took over as Columbia's coach three years ago in a similar situation. The Columbia Eagles, in DeKalb County were thought of as primarily a basketball school with not much success on the football field.
After going 3-7 during his first season in 2009, Allen then led the Eagles to a 6-5 record in each of his next two years. It was the first time in 15 years Columbia had back-to-back winning seasons. In 2011 he led Columbia to its first playoff appearance in 10 years.
"It's kind of similar to Columbia in Rockdale," Allen said. "The football program when I came (to Columbia) was a lower tier team in the county. And over the last three years we were able to transform the program."
That is a model he hopes to translate to Rockdale, another strong basketball school.
"Rockdale is in a little better situation," Allen said. "I know they're talented there, and their basketball team is pretty good like Columbia. There are athletes roaming the hallways. I'm just trying to bring excitement back."
Under Allen the Bulldogs will run a spread offense with multiple fronts on both sides of the ball.
"We're going to try to balance with the run off the pass," Allen said. "On defense we'll make sure we tackle well. Football is a physical game, and you have to have your best guys on defense.
"We're going to put ourselves in position to be successful by using the best 11 players, regardless of classification."
Allen was named the successor to Michael Etheridge, who was dismissed back in December, after the Rockdale County School Board voted on his hiring Thursday night.
He was one of three finalists selected by a panel led by Rockdale Principal Georgi Nour.
"I'm pleased with the results when I do what's best for our young men," Nour said. "With his experience at Columbia High School, he was very successful there."
The hiring panel consisted of a booster club parent, Craig Headgrove, Dr. Garrett Brundage, Michelle Glover, Kevin Rogers, Greg Brown and Nour. Within weeks of the position being available, Rockdale started receiving applications, getting in over 80 applicants.
From there the panel reviewed each one using a rubric score to narrow it down to the top 10. The rubric weighed answers to questions such as experience, use of tutorial programs to help academics and different scenarios such as different ways to raise funds.
From there the panel selected three finalists to interview, and then presented them to the school board with Allen being the top choice.
Aside from his football credentials, another reason he appealed to Nour and the rest of the panel was his track record with getting players signed to a college.
During his three years at Columbia, Allen has gotten 45 players in college, including 17 in 2011 and 15 in 2010.
"That's the one thing I pride myself on as well is that every young man is moving on to go to college," Allen said. "That allows them to go ahead and use football as an avenue to go to school and get a quality education, then come back to the community and be productive."
It was the community of Rockdale that helped draw Allen to the job. Having lived in both Fulton and DeKalb Counties, he was aware of Rockdale County both as a place to live and a place for good football.
"I saw that it was open, and I pretty much applied for it," Allen said. "I knew it was in an area that I was really intrigued about. Rockdale is an area I've always felt if the opportunity presented itself I would apply for it."
Now that he has been hired at Rockdale, Allen will fill his staff, looking at his Columbia assistants, Rockdale assistants and those outside both programs.
But first, along with Nour, he will meet with the players on Monday, hoping to share his excitement about the future of Bulldogs' football.
"I'm very excited, I can't wait to get over there to Bulldog nation and get things rolling," Allen said. "I'm very elated and excited about the opportunity and I'm going to make the most of it."