By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Managing Editor
Bill Stewart couldn’t have had a better finish to his first season as North Gwinnett (Ga.) head coach; a field goal as time expired gave the Bulldogs their first state championship in school history.
Stewart had no illusions about the ultimate goal when he accepted the head coaching position at North Gwinnett last February.
The former Mill Creek defensive coordinator needed to lead the Bulldogs to their first state championship in school history. North had come close twice before, losing in the finals to Lowndes in 2007 and Norcross in 2013.
Stewart achieved his goal in Year 1, leading North to the Class AAAAAAA state championship with a win over Colquitt County. North became the sixth school since Brookwood in 1996 to win a state title in Georgia’s largest classification — along with Parkview (four titles), Brookwood (two), Grayson (two), Norcross (two) and Peachtree Ridge (one).
FNF Coaches has selected Stewart the 2018 National Coach of the Year for his immediate impact on the North Gwinnett program.
“From the beginning of the year, we focused on culture,” Stewart said. “It was about getting everybody to buy in. Our team got connected at our summer camp. That was one of the main places. It was a unifying moment for the team.”
Stewart felt the turning point of the season came in Week 2 when North overcame a 14-point deficit against Milton to earn its first win of the season. Quarterback Cade Fortin broke his leg in the game, and Jimmy Urzua came on in relief to key the victory. North started the season with a 31-28 loss to Walton before running off 14 straight wins.
“We lost our quarterback and had two linebackers out at the time,” Stewart said. “We had just lost to Walton in the last second, and we had to win that one in the last second. We finished off really strong. By the end of the season, I felt we really knew how to finish games.”
Stewart had some head coaching experience prior to serving as defensive coordinator at Mill Creek from 2014-16. As head coach at Etowah (Ga.) from 2006-11, he led the team to six state playoff berths in six seasons. Stewart also played football professionally in the Arena Football League after a successful college career at Central Florida.
The Coach of the Year Profile
Name: Bill Stewart
Team: North Gwinnett (Ga.)
Accomplishment: Led team to Georgia Class AAAAAAA state championship
2018 record: 14-1
Career record: 55-27
Years at North Gwinnett: 1
Offensive scheme: Spread/RPO
Defensive scheme: 4-3
Former position: Defensive coordinator, linebackers coach and strength and conditioning coach at Mill Creek
Education: Graduated from Armwood (Fla.) High School; earned degree in criminal justice from the University of Central Florida
Family: Wife Nichole; son Jake, 18; daughters Kendall, 15 and Emma, 11
In his words: “We got really close as a team over the course of the season. Every moment can bring you closer, whether it’s the strength and conditioning part, practice or games. Every day, you’re building your culture. It builds the character you need to win football games.”
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