COVINGTON, Ga. — Just three hours after the official announcement that Camiel Grant would take on the reins of the Newton Rams’ football program in an interim capacity, he was standing before parents of Rams football players in the school auditorium, giving them the succinct rundown of how things will be as long as he’s at the helm.
“We told (the kids) that the message is, we’re just going to work,” Grant said. “If anybody wants to know what’s going on, how the process is going, we’ve just got a job to do, and we’re going to go to work.”
That resolute tone spoke volumes to about 30 parents who were concerned with the immediate direction of the program, particularly with football still left to be played in the 2018 season.
Newton (4-6) will travel to West Forsyth Friday night for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff in the first round of the Class AAAAAAA playoffs. And Grant made it clear that, although they’ve reached the win-or-go-home portion of the season, he has aspirations of extending the 2018 campaign as much as possible.
“This is how we want the kids to approach it,” Grant said. “That’s how we as coaches are gonna approach it. And we’re gonna get everything we can out of the next one, two, three, for or even five weeks, Lord willing, if that’s what’s in store for us.”
That doesn’t mean any immediate, wholesale changes for now. But if the Rams come away from West Forsyth with a victory, expect some things to be different.
“I don’t think a whole lot will be different this week, but if we’re blessed enough to win this game, going forward, it’ll get ramped up a whole lot,” he said.
To be sure, making substantial changes to Newton’s culture will be something that should come easier for Grant than an outsider to the program. Of Grant’s 19 years as a coach, 10 of those have been at Newton.
He spent five years on the Rams’ staff before Banks came, then left for a stint at MLK before returning to Newton in year two of Banks’ tenure.
The familiarity was definitely a selling point for Newton athletic director Vincent Byams.
“What coach Grant gives us is stability,” Byams said. “He’s been part of the program for a good while. He’s one of the coaches we have on staff that people feel comfortable coming to, not just on the football aspect, but just in life. He’s a definite role model we have in the program. It’ll be an easier transition rather than for any other person we have on staff.”
Grant said he’s flattered to be so highly thought of by Byams and principal Shannon Buff. But given the circumstances surrounding his promotion, he was in no mood to rejoice.
In fact, that was the first sentiment he shared with the parents.
“First and foremost, our message to our guys was this is not a cause for any type of celebration,” Grant said. “That’s not the way I view it. That’s not the way any of our coaches view it, and that’s not the way we want our kids to view it. I can tell it was a tough decision for (Buff and Byams) to make. Right, wrong, indifferent, agree or disagree, at the end of the day, one of our family members who started this season’s journey with us is no longer with us, and that’s something we have to deal with it. And the way we have to deal with it is to move forward.”
Part of that forward progress will be Grant acclimating himself to the changes in his responsibility load. Grant has spent the last five years as an assistant coach and quarterbacks coach for the Rams, along with some offensive coordinator duties. But those duties have kept him in the press box, instead of down at field level.
That’s going to change, starting this week.
“Five years in the booth is a long time,” Grant said. “But I’ve been on the sidelines before, and have had two other opportunities to step in as an interim head coach. Once with MLK and a couple of years ago here with Banks, so that part I’m a little familiar with. I’m going to have to spend a little more time with the offensive game plan. I’ve gotta spend a little more time on special teams and defense as well.
“I normally didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to what’s going on on the defensive side because I haven’t had to. But I know I’ll be a whole lot more busy. My planning periods will be spent not doing P.E. stuff, but doing football stuff.”
As far as a time table for Newton appointing a permanent head coach, both Buff and Byams said they would be in no hurry to make a decision. Buff has said an official job posting for the head coaching position will go public after the season is done.
“In any job opening, you definitely want to open up the position for anyone qualified,” Buff said. “We want to hear from our program’s stakeholders, our parents, our teachers, the football coaches. We want to make sure we have plenty of time for anybody that applies, and to have all voices to be heard, even on an interview panel. I certainly think we’ll take as much time as we need to find the right person who is a role model and can help push Newton football forward.”
“We don’t want to rush this,” he said. “We want to look for the right fit. The person we’re looking for has to understand what it means to be apart of Newton football and the Covington community. We want someone who understands it’s bigger than just about winning. It’s about developing high character guys out of our program.”
Byams also said it’s top priority to identify a coach who isn’t afraid to compete with the big boys in Georgia’s highest classification of football.
“We’re definitely looking for the next level of our program,” Byams said. “We don’t want to be at a point where we’re satisfied with being .500 or breaking even. We know we don’t have some of the facilities like places such as Colquitt County, the Archers or Graysons of the world. But we do feel we have the athletes in our area to compete with these schools in spite of our facilities.”
And for what it’s worth, Grant was not afraid to express his interest and desire to be that guy to take the Rams to higher heights on a permanent basis.
“I can’t lie and say I’m not excited about the opportunity,” Grant said. “But at the same time, I considered coach Banks a friend, and to have to step up in this situation, it’s not ideal, and it kind of gives you mixed emotions. But to be honest with you, yes, Newton is family. I’ve been here 10 years. This is home for me, and it definitely would be an honor to lead this program. I know that’s down the road a bit, but it is something, if that opportunity presented itself, I’d feel blessed to have.”