New Slocomb coach Bryant Garrison, after a long stint as an assistant coach in Georgia, was longing to get a shot to lead a football program.
After serving the past three years as defensive coordinator and head strength and conditioning coach at Central Gwinnett High School, a Class AAAAAA school in Lawrenceville, Ga., the former high school star at Marion County High in Guin looked to get back to his home state.
“When you start going through the process, it’s a little bit overwhelming at times,” Garrison said. “For the past year, my wife and I have talked about getting back to Alabama. We wanted to get a little bit closer to family. I started applying to a few jobs in Alabama and went through the interview process and got to the opportunity to come here at Slocomb.”
Being from northwest Alabama, Garrison didn’t know much about Slocomb. It didn’t take long for him to believe it was the right fit.
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“When I came down to interview, they really sold me more on Slocomb than me selling myself,” Garrison said. “It was really eye-opening to see what they had to offer at a smaller school. I kind of loved the school and loved the area.”
Garrison liked the tight-knit community and witnessed the school support during a spring scrimmage.
“Our home sideline was completely full of people just for pretty much a glorified practice,” Garrison said.
Garrison replaces Richard Tisdale, who stepped down after leading the Red Tops to an 8-4 overall mark last season, 5-1 in Class 3A, Region 2.
Garrison began his coaching career at Lincoln (Ala.), serving as running backs and quarterbacks coach on offense and safeties and cornerbacks on defense. He was also an assistant varsity boys basketball coach and ninth grade basketball coach as well as assistant golf coach at Lincoln.
He moved to Hampton (Ga.) in July 2015, serving a variety of roles in his four years with the program. He was secondary coach (2015-19), special teams coordinator (2016) and running backs/JV defensive coordinator (2015-16) before becoming the varsity defensive coordinator (2016-19).
Garrison then left for Central Gwinnett, coaching there since 2019 before taking the Slocomb job.
“We wanted to slow things down a little bit because the hustle and bustle of living in Atlanta wears on you after a while,” Garrison said. “I knew it was going to be a challenge, but that’s going to be the case anywhere you go.”
Slocomb moves up to Class 4A this season and Garrison understands there will be some growing pains in trying to implement his coaching style.
“I think as a coach, you’re kind of used to doing things a certain way, but as kids you’re used to doing things a certain way, too,” Garrison said.
“I was strength and conditioning coach at Central Gwinnett, so that was kind of my background coming in. It took the kids a good month to get acclimated to how I wanted to get things done in the weight room.
“They worked really hard, but the pace we go at is really, really fast … really up-tempo. Some of the things I’ve incorporated, they’ve never done before, so it was a learning curve for them.”
Offensively, the Red Tops will rely on two talented senior running backs in Rashawn Miller and Braylon Miller.
“The strength is going to be our run game,” Garrison said.
At quarterback, sophomore Cade Birge (6-1, 180) is being tossed into the fire after getting a little playing time at the position as a freshman.
“We’re trying to get him eased into what we’re doing,” Garrison said. “I talked to him at the beginning of the season and was like, ‘Look, I know you’re young, but you’re in a leadership position and you have to take on that role.’ And that’s exactly what he’s done since day one … he’s stepped in whether it’s in the weight room or out conditioning … he’s leading the guys and trying to pull them along.
“He’s got a real good grasp of the offense and can get us into the right plays and out of the wrong plays. With him, we’re not going to try and ask him to throw 40 times a game and win the game for us. I think Cade’s biggest responsibility right now is being able to manage the game and get us in the right situations and get the ball into the right players at the right time. We don’t want to put everything on his shoulders.
“He has some really good compliments around him at the receivers and running backs, so he needs to lean on that and be simple with it and take what the defense gives him.”
Defensively, Michael Ward is a senior linebacker that Garrison spoke of.
“Michael Ward has really been impressive on the defensive side,” Garrison said. “He’s really undersized (5-9, 190), but he played on the defensive line last year and was really good because he’s so fast. This year we’ve backed him up to linebacker and he’s really picked that up.”
Garrison served two years as equipment manager for Alabama’s football team under then head coach Mike Shula before becoming a graduate assistant in Nick Saban’s first year as coach at the school.
As a graduate assistant, he worked directly with Saban and Kirby Smart, who was defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at the time. Among Garrison’s duties were creating new call signals and implementing them for the defensive backs, preparing practice schedules and call sheets for coaches as well as organizing and conducting defensive back drills.
He believes being in that type of environment has prepared him well from an organizational standpoint to be a head coach.
“Just being around him (Smart) and coach Saban in staff meetings and stuff and having their expectations of me to be so organized and be so efficient … I always had a good work ethic, but it allowed me to develop an even better one,” Garrison said.
>> REDTOPS AT A GLANCE
>> Head coach: Bryant Garrison (1st year at Slocomb and as a head coach)
>> 2021 record: 8-4 overall, 5-1 in Class 3A, Region 2, region champions, second round of Class 3A state playoffs
>> 2021 results: Geneva (L, 7-14);Northside Methodist (W, 37-0); Providence Christian # (W, 30-0); at Houston Academy # (L, 25-35); at Ariton (L, 28-38); New Brockton # (W, 35-7); at Daleville # (W, 57-0); Opp # (W, 40-7); at Wicksburg # (W, 14-7); at Geneva County (W, 58-20). STATE PLAYOFFS: Dadeville (W, 28-16); Hillcrest (Evergreen) (L, 37-39)
>> Points scored/per game: 396/33.0
>>Points allowed/per game: 183/15.3
>> Returning offensive starters (4): RB Rashawn Miller (Sr.); WR Jacob Spence (Sr.); OL Michael Ward (Sr.); OL Gabe Hall (Jr.)
>>Returning defensive starters (4): LB Rashawn Miller (Sr.); LB Michael Ward (Sr.); DB Braylon Miller (Sr.); DB Jacob Spence (Sr.)
Aug. 19 off
Aug. 26 at G.W. Long
Sept. 2 Geneva #
Sept. 9 at Catholic (Montgomery) #
Sept. 16 at B.T. Washington #
Sept. 23 Ashford #
Sept. 30 Dale County #
Oct. 7 at Andalusia #
Oct. 14 Montgomery Academy #
Oct. 21 Bullock County #
Oct. 27 (Thur) at Geneva County
# Denotes region contests