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PREP BASKETBALL: Newton girls head coach steps down after 18 years
Jawan Bailey approved by BOE to lead Lady Rams program
Newton girls coach Tiffani Johnson, along with other coaches and team members on the bench, call out directions to the team on the court during Saturday's Class AAAAAAA state championship game against Westlake. - photo by Sydney Chacon

COVINGTON, Ga. — After leading the Newton High School girls basketball team for 18 seasons, Tiffani Johnson has resigned. 

On Tuesday, the Newton County School System (NCSS) Board of Education approved Augusta native Jawan Bailey to take the helm. 

According to Johnson, one main factor played into her decision: her son, Gavin. 

“My son has autism and he’s 12. He told me one day that he wanted me to be home,” Johnson said. “I asked him and he said, ‘Mama, I want you home with me.’ Now that he’s at the age where he in tune with my presence, it’s important to me to be with him. I just feel like, at this point, that my son and my family deserve all of my attention as well as I’ve given to the community.” 

In Johnson’s 18 seasons, she led the Lady Rams to 227-179 overall with a 99-82 region record. With her as the head coach, the Lady Rams have only missed the playoffs three times and are currently riding an 11-year streak of postseason berths. 

At the end of the 2017-18 season, Johnson led the Lady Rams to a state championship appearance — the Lady Rams’ first in 55 years. The Lady Rams also advanced to one Elite Eight and three Sweet Sixteen appearances on Johnson’s watch. 

But the wins and accomplishments aren’t what Johnson said she appreciated the most during her time as the Lady Rams’ head coach. It has been the support. Johnson said she’s had numerous people reach out to her expressing their gratitude. 

That’s another reason why Johnson is not leaving NHS entirely. She’s remaining in her teaching role and is just stepping away from her coaching duties. Doing so will allow for more time to be with her son, and Johnson said she is really looking forward to that. 

“Me being with him so much, I feel like I know him on a different level,” Johnson said. “Now we get to be more spontaneous with what we do and where we go and don’t have to worry about planning around a schedule. I’ll have the chance to randomly go places with him and try new things. And, while he can’t verbally express it, I can feel that he’s enjoying us spending time together.” 

Throughout her coaching tenure at Newton, Johnson has coached many student-athletes, and she highlighted how her staff had a little-to-no turnover in 18 seasons. 

Johnson’s departure from the Lady Rams program comes with a special message to all former players and coaches. 

“Family comes first,” Johnson said. “I’ve always said that to my assistant coaches and players. Do what is right for you and your family.  And, I tell the girls all the time, everything you need is already in you. You just have to find and use it to get wherever you want to go.” 

Newton Athletic Director Vincent Byams recognized the impact Johnson has had on the Lady Rams program. 

“Coach Johnson has poured so much into young ladies throughout her program,” Byams said. “We definitely appreciate everything she brought to the girls basketball program.” 

Now Bailey, who is coming from T. W. Josey High School in Augusta, will lead the Lady Rams program in 2022-23. 

Bailey expressed his excitement for taking the reins of the Lady Rams program. 

“Everybody I’ve met so far is absolutely amazing,” Bailey said. “You can tell there’s a good culture of people who care about each other and want to be on the winning side of things. Plus Newton High School itself, the resources they can provide and what they have at hand.”  

At Josey — a Class AA school — Bailey went 178-75 in nine seasons. The Lady Eagles are coming off a region championship season, too, that was preceded by a state championship season in 2020-2021. Josey girls basketball is currently riding a six-year streak of finishing in the top two of its respective region standings under Bailey while winning 20-plus games per season. 

Byams pointed to Bailey’s resume as to what made Bailey the right person for the job. 

“I feel like [Coach Bailey’s] energy expertise and he’s a proven winner is what makes him the right fit for the program,” Byams said. “I’m really excited for him to come into our building. I think he’s going to do a great job in our community and in our building.” 

Bailey is an alumnus of Josey High School where he graduated in 2006. From there, the Augusta native walked onto the men’s basketball team at Albany State University and played college basketball from 2006-2010.

Though Bailey had the Lady Eagles peaking in Augusta, he said that it was time for a new challenge.

“I had a list of goals when I took the job at Josey and I feel like I checked off all of those goals,” Bailey said. “It was just time. I never wanted that to be my final stop. It just gave me a great experience and a great stepping stone that I can take into the Newton job.”