Photo: Former Gaston High head football coach Swane Morris (pictureed at center) instructs his players during a 7-on-7 scrimmage with Coosa Christian last July. Morris resigned his position last month to take an assistant coaching/teaching position at Pierce County, Ga. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
After 20 years and more than 100 victories as a high school head football coach in Alabama, Swane Morris is taking his gridiron acumen to the Peach State.
Morris last month resigned as head football coach at Gaston and accepted the position as outside linebacker coach and P.E. teacher at Pierce County High School in Blackshear, Ga.
Although it was a difficult decision, the 1987 Gaston graduate felt the time was right to pull up stakes and head east.
“From all standpoints, it seemed like perfect timing,” he said. “I did a lot of praying about it, and it felt that God was opening every door that needed to be opened for this to work. Every question that needed to be answered, Pierce County answered. I went down there for a few workouts with the kids and I really liked it. They have a new high school and a new weight room, and the faculties are fantastic.”
Morris has long always entertained the idea of moving to Georgia after he put in his 25 years in the Alabama public school system but wanted to wait for the right situation.
“I’m retired, and my wife Jennifer had reached 15 years (as a Gaston teacher). Plus, my son Dixon will be a ninth grader in the fall, and if you’re going to make a move like this, you want to make it when he will be entering his freshman year.”
Morris is looking forward to working with Pierce County head football coach Ryan Herring, whom Morris knew when Herring was head coach at Oxford. From 2013-18, Herring guided the Yellow Jackets to a 51-21 record with two region championships and state quarterfinal appearances in 2017 and 2018. In his first season at Pierce County, Herring led the 2019 Bears to an 11-1 record.
Morris doesn’t see much of an adjustment in returning to the assistant ranks after 20 years of being in charge.
“Coach Herring is a God-ly man who coaches much the same way that I handle things. We’ve always asked our players to be part of something that is bigger than themselves, and if you’re not willing to do the same thing, you’re not much of a coach. It not only will be good for me; it will be good for Dixon as well. And it will be nice for a change to focus on one side of the ball.”
Pierce County competes in Class 3A, Region 6 along with Appling County, Brantley County, Liberty County, Long County and Tattnall County. With a current student body of approximately 750, Morris compared PCHS to a mid-sized 6A school in Alabama.
“I’m pretty sure [Pierce County] dressed about 81 kids last year, which is a bit more that the 26 [players] we had last season at Gaston,” he said with a laugh.
Located in the southeastern part of Georgia, Blackshear is approximately two hours from Savannah, an hour from the Georgia sea islands and 90 minutes from Jacksonville, Fla.
“At first, Jennifer said that there wasn’t anything down there because [Blackshear] is a very country and rural setting with three stoplights in town, but she started talking to people who told her how close the beach and other things were. That started to raise some eyebrows with her.”
In 16 years at Gaston, Morris guided the Bulldogs to a 100-71 record and made the state playoffs 12 times, including a state semifinal berth in 2008 and state quarterfinals appearances in 2003 and 2009. He was named Etowah County Schools Coach of the Year in 2002, 2004, 2007 and 2008 and Class 2A Coach of the Year in 2013. From 2010-12 he was head coach at Scottsboro, where he went 4-29.
Morris, who began his coaching career in 1994 at Pleasant Valley and later was an assistant at Southside for three seasons, noted that it was a different decision to leave Gaston for Georgia than it was to leave for Scottsboro in 2010.
“The first time I left, the move was more in terms of getting the opportunity to coach in a higher classification. This time, it’s more in terms of putting my family is a good situation for the future, especially Dixon, and Jennifer is in a much better teaching situation. And quite honestly, I can never make the money in Alabama that I can in Georgia, so it made sense from a financial standpoint.”
Nevertheless, it was a difficult decision for Morris to leave Shinbone Ridge.
“I’ve been here for a while and me and my family have done a lot over the years. But I really feel that this is the best thing for me and my family. When I met with the [Gaston football] players, I told them that wasn’t like I was taking some big-paying head coaching job somewhere else in the state. I told them that I was stepping away from being a head coach because I believe that it was the best thing for everybody involved.”