JACKSONVILLE — After being a volunteer assistant during his time in college at Jacksonville State and an assistant coach at his alma mater — Ashville High — John Grass’ wait to become a head coach wasn’t long. He took over as head coach at Ashville at only 27-years-old and hasn’t looked back since.
“Back then, I didn’t know all the things I needed to do,” Grass said after announcing JSU's Saturday scrimmage would be postponed to Sunday at 6 a.m. because of weather. “But a goal of mine was to be able to coach every position on the field, and run the weight room and offseason deal before I even became a head coach.
“I think I was pretty prepared even though I was a young coach.”
Since the early years, Grass has seen the likes of every major FBS coach, from Alabama’s Nick Saban and Ohio State’s Urban Myer to Georgia’s Mark Richt. He’s has seen them all come through the door of his office, and every time he’s tried to learn something new about being a head coach.
“Getting to sit in and listen to all those different sell speeches and the way those guys approach a recruit, I took a lot away from that,” said Grass, who is entering his first season as JSU's head coach. “So over the years I’ve been fortunate to have some good players and to see those guys, and to be a part of making sure those guys make the right decision for him.
“I’ve listened to all the best in the business, from the college end of the recruiting, but I’ve also got to sit there and gain from that experience, so I can sit there and advice a kid, from a high school coach standpoint, and help the kid make the best decision for him and his family. I think seeing both sides of recruiting as really, really helped me.”
This year, Grass will have the luxury of being joined by one of his former players — William Green, who signed with Meyer and Florida following the 2008 season — on his staff this season. Green will serve as a graduate assistant to Grass, but will also bring the competitiveness of playing at the FBS level, which is something Grass may need in preparation for his first college game as a head coach.
The difference in preparation for a game is something Grass acknowledges as one of the major difference between coaching at the prep level as to coaching at the collegiate level.
“Having your staff working on football all day long is definitely an advantage in college,” he said. “Whereas the high school guys have to teach class for seven hours a day before they have to actually work on football.”
Grass and his Jacksonville State Gamecocks have been preparing for their first FBS opponent — Michigan State — since the 2012 season, and it’ll mark the first game as head coach for the JSU alum since being promoted from offensive coordinator earlier this year.
“There are a lot more questions answered, more head coaching management-type situations, but that’s what I’m familiar and comfortable with,” Grass said of the transition. “I think I would’ve had a difficult time last year, without any college experience, but getting use to the differences between high school and college last year, I feel better good about what we are doing.
“Overlooking that the first game of your career in college being Michigan State, what a stage for your debut to be in. I think it’s going to be a very special thing, and be pretty fun.”