Photo by Heather Middleton
By Doug Gorman
When Strong Rock Christian School decided to go in a different direction with its football program, it wanted somebody with a solid track record.
They found their perfect candidate just a few miles down the road at Woodward Academy.
Earlier this week, Mark Miller was introduced as Strong Rock's new football coach during a "meet and greet session" with players, parents and fans.
He takes over for former coach Cris Bell, who served as football coach and athletic director during the school's first four years of operation.
Bell helped lead the school through a transition period that included membership first in the GISA, and then affiliation with GHSA starting this school year.
"It has to be said that Cris did a good job getting things started for us," Strong Rock CEO Patrick Stuart said. "But we are excited about the direction we are headed into right now."
Miller comes to Strong Rock with an impressive resume that includes three straight trips to the playoffs with the War Eagles.
The past two seasons, Miller's teams at Woodward Academy posted 10-2 records, advancing two rounds into the playoffs.
For Miller, coaching at Woodward Academy seemed like the dream job.
He was a graduate of the private school in College Park, worked as an assistant there and served as head coach for six years. He was also winning on a regular basis.
But with his powerful Christian faith, he feels he is being led to Strong Rock to continue the next phase of his coaching and teaching career by higher power.
"I was very happy at my alma mater," he said. "I didn't go seeking this job, but we are looking forward to getting back to the area, and I'm excited about giving my children a chance to attend a Christian school at place like Strong Rock."
Miller's name came up to Stuart from a friend he goes to church with, and that started the process.
After a couple of interviews and meetings with Miller and his wife, the teacher and veteran football coach found out Strong Rock was a perfect fit and a place he needed to be.
"I can't wait to put my stamp on this program," Miller said.
Strong Rock's new coach has family ties to Henry County and once lived in the area.
He inherits a program with first class facilities, including a stadium with artificial turf and a state of the art scoreboard, weight room and locker room.
But it wasn't just facilities that attracted him to the job, and that was something that impressed both Stuart and school principal Tucker Perkerson.
"He has a strong Christian faith, and he really feels like there are things in his life that led him to Strong Rock," said Perkerson. "He has been keeping an eye on us from a distance, and when he came here, it was a great interview."
Strong Rock has decided to make the athletic director and football coaching jobs separate positions, so they hired Phil Roberts as the new AD.
Miller had his first interview before Roberts was officially hired as AD, and a second one once Roberts accepted the AD's job.
After the second interview the deal was sealed.
One of the things that impressed Perkerson was the way Woodward Academy handled the situation when Miller resigned.
"They really supported him and honored him for what he had done for them," said Perkerson. "They understand that this is a move that he feels called to make. They have even shown support for us and what we are trying to do here."
Perkerson and Stuart want to see Miller succeed on the football field, but they know their new coach's agenda goes beyond x's and o's.
"His goal is to develop his players into great Christian men," Stuart said.
Miller will get started in the coming weeks by holding a spring practice where he will get to know his players better and begin introducing his scheme the football squad.
He has already made one hire to his coaching staff.
Former Riverdale and Jonesboro head coach Tommy Webb will serve as the Patriots' new defensive coordinator.
Webb, who will retire from Fayette County High School at the end of the school year, led Jonesboro to the playoffs in 2002 and Fayette County in 2007.
Miller is glad to have somebody with Webb's experience help in the transition.
"I have known and coached against Tommy for several years," he said. "He is getting ready to retire from Fayette County High School, and he had called me about coming over to coach at Woodward. When I got the job at Strong Rock, he was the first person I called. He has plenty of football experience, but it's his faith and character that make him so special."