Jeff Hunnicutt has been around football in Floyd County for most of his life. And it is a Floyd County football team that is giving him his first chance at being a head coach.
The former Pepperell player and defensive coordinator was introduced Friday as the new head coach for the Model Blue Devils, ending a month-long search that was triggered by the decision of Ricky Ross to not return next season.
Hunnicutt comes to Model after a year on the staff at Cartersville High School where he worked with head coach Joey King and helped the Hurricanes reach the Class 4A state championship game.
Prior to that, Hunnicutt spent 11 years teaching and coaching at both Coosa and Pepperell at different periods and serving as the defensive coordinator at both schools. He also was an assistant coach at Hiram and Cedartown.
“To say I’m an experienced coach, I’m an inexperienced head coach. I think that’s a fair assessment,” Hunnicutt said during a press conference Friday. “But as far as bringing it to Model, it’s not all about X’s and O’s.”
Hunnicutt said he has seen that be a positive attribute in teams he has been a part of, including last season at Cartersville with players showing up for summer workouts.
“I addressed it with the kids this morning. If they can hold themselves accountable with those things, that makes our jobs as coaches a lot easier and allows them ownership of the program. And with that said, that ownership is also going to develop a family,” he said.
Hunnicutt’s dad, Lynn Hunnicutt, left a legacy as the head coach at Pepperell for 24 seasons, leading to the Dragons from 1983 to 2006 and capturing the GHSA Class AA state championship in 1990. He retired with a 168-99 record at the Floyd County school.
Jeff Hunnicutt said his time not just being around his dad growing up but also working under head coaches at area schools has been a fortunate experience that he hopes will aid him as he enters a new role.
“I’ve worked under several head coaches who are still head coaches in this county, and I grew up with a head coach in my household,” Hunnicutt said, referring to his father. “So it’s exciting to have the opportunity to leave a lasting footprint in this community like he did in the Lindale community.”
Scott Savage, Model High’s principal, said the process of finding a new coach began with an emphasis on someone who would fit the school and the community.
“I don’t think you can find anybody more solid with the X’s and O’s part of this job,” Savage said. “I think the thing that sold me was his commitment to be here at Model, the commitment to build the program here, to have that family feeling, not just within the football team, but we have a strong family feeling between our school and the other county schools.”
“We know that he’s going to do a fantastic job and we know the community will stand behind him all the way and support him,” Model Athletic Director Todd Gilleland said. "And that’s a big part of what this is all about, getting everybody to work together to improve the program. And we know Jeff can do that.”
His and his father’s ties to Pepperell and the Lindale community aside, Hunnicutt does take over a program that has a connection to his family. His dad came out of retirement in 2010 to become the head coach at Model, which he did for two seasons, ending with a 4-16 record.
The Blue Devils went 2-8 last season and were 1-9 the season before that, ending a five-year stretch of reaching the state playoffs.
Hunnicutt said he knows there will be some challenges with both being new to a program and as a first-time head coach, but he has a view of where he wants to lead Model’s players.
“It would be foolish to say right off the bat that we’re going to win 10 ball games and we’re not going to lose a single one,” Hunnicutt said.
“Is that a goal? Sure, potentially. Wins and losses go hand in hand. I told the kids this morning that the core values I want to instill in them is … going to carry on with them to make them a successful father, son or community member. That’s my ultimate goal. And I think with that, wins will follow.”