New LaGrange coach ready for challenge

Published 2:57 am Wednesday, January 24, 2018

By Kevin Eckleberry

He’s ready to get to work.

On Monday, Chuck Gibbs was named the new head football coach at LaGrange High, and he takes over a program that has struggled of late.

Gibbs, who has been a head coach at Scottsdale Christian Academy in Phoenix for the past four years, is familiar with the proud tradition of the LaGrange football program since he grew up close by in Auburn.

While LaGrange’s program is historically one of the best in the state, though, the past few years have been difficult ones.

The 2017 season was an especially challenging one, with the Grangers failing to win a game.

It’s up to Gibbs to try to get LaGrange’s program back on track, and he’s ready and eager for the challenge.

Gibbs will be coming to LaGrange along with his wife, Raquel, and his two children Keona and Kale.

“Straight up, we’re going to take back the city,” Gibbs said on the phone from Arizona. “That’s my mission, and that’s my mantle that’s on me. I know there are two other great schools there. We’ve got to get it going back in the right direction. There’s a ton of talent there, it’s how to we coach ‘em up and love ‘em up and put them together so they can perform together on a Friday night and start to experience a little bit of success on the field.”

A search that lasted about two months following the departure of previous head coach Dialleo Burks ended with Gibbs being recommended for the job.

During Monday’s Troup County Board of Education meeting, Gibbs’ hiring was approved, officially making him LaGrange’s new head coach, although it will be a few months before he and his family make the move from Arizona.

In the meantime, Gibbs will be traveling back-and-forth from Arizona, and he will be in LaGrange to oversee spring practice.

“I was hiking with my dad (long-time NFL coach Alex Gibbs), and I said you will not believe what football team in Georgia did not win a game last year. I told him LaGrange, and he stopped and looked at me and said, you’re kidding me,” Gibbs said. “But the kids are great. Kids tend to not change. Sure, there are some ebbs and flows of the tide with talent. But the coaching staff seems to be young and energetic, and certainly understands football. I think a lot of it is how do you bring it all together? Not that I’m the answer. And I told the guys, I don’t know if I’m the right guy. I know I’m the right kind of guy. Let’s get in there and see if we can restore community, and let’s get the Granger pride back.”

Gibbs’ first introduction to LaGrange High football came in the early 80s when his father was coaching at Auburn University.

“I grew up when my dad was the assistant head coach and offensive coordinator at Auburn,” Chuck Gibbs said. “It’s always been a special place for me, because those are my times when I was 9,10, 11-years-old and whether my dad was at Auburn, or at Georgia, we recruited guys that are in LaGrange’s Hall of Fame.”

Gibbs was himself a standout athlete at Auburn, and after high school he attended the United States Military Academy (Army) where he played football and participated in track and field.

Gibbs was a four-year letterman in football, and he was a cornerback and punt returner.

After graduating from West Point in 1992, Gibbs was an assistant coach at Army for one year, and following the 1993 season he went to flight school and became an attack helicopter pilot.

Gibbs served a 10-year stint as a full-time member of the United States Army, and he was able to gain some coaching experience at his different stops.

“I did my 10 years in Army after I graduated and kind of coached along the way,” Gibbs said. “You can’t really drop anchor, or get too involved in the community, because the military is always picking you up and moving you.”

After a decade of serving his country in the Army, Gibbs decided that he wanted to become a football coach because of his love the sport, and his desire to share the knowledge he’d gained during his time at West Point and during active duty.

“It’s my way to give back, my way to take the leadership they poured into me at West Point and through years of playing high school and college football and running track, and just be a conduit to pass along all the leadership you’ve been given, and people have bestowed on you, and give that out to these other kids,” Gibbs said.

In 2004, Gibbs gained some valuable coaching experience with the Atlanta Falcons as part of an internship program.

Gibbs was not only able to work with an NFL team for six weeks, but he also coached alongside his father, who was the offensive-line coach with the Falcons at the time.

In 2005, Gibbs was an assistant coach at Kapolei High School in Hawaii, and he moved to Arizona the following year and spent a season as a coach at Arcadia High School in Phoenix.

In 2007, Gibbs founded the Arcadia Youth Football Program, and as the head coach he guided the team to four league championships and a 42-8-1 record.

In 2014, Gibbs took on a new challenge when he became the head coach at Scottsdale Christian Academy in Phoenix.

After an 0-3 start that first season, Scottsdale ended up going 5-6 and making the state playoffs, and it was smooth sailing after that.

Scottsdale went 9-2 in 2015, and it is coming off back-to-back 10-3 seasons while reaching the quarterfinals of the state playoffs both years.

“We had tremendous success the last three years, winning 29 games,” said Gibbs, who also served as athletics director at Scottsdale. “How quickly can we duplicate the success, I don’t know. Obviously we want to be in play for where we’re competing in the region, and we’re competing for a playoff spot. That’s how you start to get it back.”

Gibbs added that “we’re going to restore that Granger pride. We’re going to defend the star.”

Gibbs said he wants the players he’ll coach to know that he cares about them not just as football players, but as people.

“Winning a lot of times is a result of leadership,” Gibbs said. “We’ve got to teach these kids hope and community, and togetherness, and discipline, and personal accountability, all the things you want your kids to know about before they graduate from high school, and going into college. If we do those little things right, and they genuinely know we care about them, the results kind of take care of themselves.”

While Gibbs hasn’t lived in this part of the world for about 30 years, he does have some family ties nearby.

His mother, in fact, lives in Auburn, and she’s a big reason why he wanted to come back to this area.

“Not many people are going to pick up and move their family from the west to the east of the country,” Gibbs said. “Granted, we have some family reasons that were at the onset of us starting to look around with my mother and her health situation in decline. We wanted to get back to that area and spend some time with her in her last few quality years. So that was kind of the initial spark of getting us to look around.”

When he found out about the opening at LaGrange, he submitted his application, and he was one of the candidates who was brought in for an interview.

Gibbs was later offered the job, he accepted, and he’ll be on the sidelines when LaGrange opens its season in August.

Gibbs said he has been, and will remain open, to meeting with anyone he thinks can help him get LaGrange football moving back in the right direction.

“I probably don’t have half the answers,” he said. “But what I’ll do is surround myself by guys that have the answers in that community, what’s worked and what hasn’t worked. I will spend countless hours talking to family, friends, former coaches, colleagues, news reporters to get a feel for it. It takes a village, and it’s time to work.”