For the past three years, Dexter Vines has learned from one of the state's best high school basketball and football coaching staffs at Spring Garden. Now he hopes to take what he's learned and establish his own program.
Vines was hired May 11 to replace Ryan Fore as the new head girls basketball coach at Class 5A Etowah. He inherits a program that went 4-19 last season.
Vines will also be an assistant to Drew Noles on the Blue Devil football team. His role on the football team has yet to be determined.
Vines called his decision to leave Spring Garden a tough one, but he's excited to become a head coach of his own program -- particularly at a place he's familiar with.
"I've had a couple of offers to go here and there, but it just didn't feel like the right time or the right place," Vines said. "When I did my student teaching at Etowah, I thought it was a special place. Obviously, I think that because that's where I'm going to, but Spring Garden is something special too. The community and the overwhelming support is second to none."
The basketball and football programs have experienced tremendous success since Vines joined the staff at Spring Garden in May of 2014. In basketball, Vines was part of a Lady Panther staff that earned three straight Class 1A state championship game appearances, including a state title in 2016.
In that same three-year span, the Panther boys won an area basketball championship during the 2015-16 season and made Northeast Regional appearances this past season and last season.
Vines was also part of the success the Panthers have had the past three seasons in football. Spring Garden finished 7-4 in 2014, 8-4 in 2015, and 10-2 in 2016.
"What I've learned from Coach Rat (Ricky) Austin, Coach Dana (Austin), Coach (Damon) McDonald and Coach (Jason) Howard is immeasurable. They've been great," Vines said.
When he learned of the Etowah position, Vines said he sought Ricky Austin's advice about it.
"Obviously, he didn't want me to go, but he knew what an opportunity it was for me," Vines said. "I told him up front from the get-go when I started (at Spring Garden) that I wanted to be a head coach. I wanted to coach girls and be a head football coach too. Although I'm not a head football coach yet, I'm head girls coach and that's something I'm very proud of.
"Coach Howard didn't want me to go either, but at the same time, he's real happy for me. He knows what it's like to be in my spot. They're all very happy for me."
In addition to being somewhat familiar with the Blue Devil athletic program through his student-teaching days, Vines said another big selling point for him about the Etowah job is the athletes. He's just hoping he can tap into their potential.
"The athletic ability there is incredible," he said. "They've got somewhere between 11-13 guys who will probably play college football. I thought 'If there's this many boys, there's going to be that many girls too.' It's just going to take some time.
"It's not going to be an overnight process. The biggest thing I've got to do is be very patient with the girls because I'm coming from a very good program, where basketball IQ is very high. That's something we've just got to build on. That's not a knock at anybody. It's just we play a different way at Spring Garden, and it's worked for us. It's a winning combination. I look forward to getting things going in the right direction there."
Vines has already begun the building process with his new team. He's already met with his new players and continues to get familiar with them.
"The first question I asked them was 'What's going on the week of March 2, 2018?' They really didn't know. That's something at Spring Garden we put on the calendar because we expect to be there," Vines said. "The next question I asked them was 'What's the most important game?' They really didn't answer that the way I wanted them to. I told them the next one, because that's the next opportunity you have to get better. We've got to use every opportunity and see where it takes us."