As the North Gwinnett Bulldogs prepare to open their region schedule against perennial rival Norcross this Friday, September 13, Coach Bob Sphire took some time and sat down for an exclusive interview to talk football, family, and philosophy.
Coach Sphire took the reins of the North Gwinnett program in 2005 and has compiled an 80-13 mark while building a program that competes for the Georgia Class AAAAAA title year in and year out. The Bulldogs, 2-0 and currently ranked No. 1 in the state by MaxPreps in their classification, No. 3 overall in the state, and No. 52 among all classifications in the nation, will face the defending Class AAAAAA state champion Norcross Blue Devils, 1-1, with the victor gaining the early advantage in the region.
The Blue Devils went undefeated last season, but opened this year with a 55-0 loss to Washington (Miami), the No. 1 team in the nation, at home. Norcross rebounded with a solid performance on defense, and their offense began to hit on all cylinders as the game progressed, and they came away with a 21-7 win. The Devils are currently ranked No. 2 in Class AAAAAA, No. 4 in the state, 55th in the nation.
When asked if preparation for this year’s matchup is any different due to the Devils status as current state champs, Coach Sphire said “This is an annual head-knocker, so it doesn’t matter that they are state champs.” He also pointed out that since he has been the Bulldogs head coach, North Gwinnett has lost only four region games-three of which came at the hands of Norcross.
Coach Sphire’s respect for Coach Kevin Maloof and the winning tradition he has established at Norcross was clearly evident when he said “I know the quality of Norcross, and how difficult they are to beat,” he went on to say that Norcross and Camden County, the Bulldogs opponent in the opening game played at the Dome as part of the Corky Kell Classic, “are consistently among the best in the state as far as raw talent.” A look at the Blue Devils roster this season confirms that-almost 20 players have the opportunity to play for Division I schools next year.
North Gwinnett runs a spread style offense that is based off the Charlie Ward, Florida State style, but has evolved over the years to incorporate aspects of many theories including BYU and the run-and-shoot style of June Jones. Sphire first began using the Wing-T attack in 1996 while coaching at a small school in Kentucky. The first two seasons he implemented the spread attack, his team won 9 games. Since 1998, Sphire coached teams have won at least 10 games a year-a remarkable streak of 15 consecutive seasons.
Coach Sphire has been successful in forming an offensive strategy that he says allows him to “tweak it based on whether we have a running quarterback or drop-back, pro-style type of QB.” Speaking of quarterbacks, the Bulldogs are led this season by Coach Sphire’s son, senior Hayden Sphire.
When the discussion turned to coaching his son, a father’s pride was reveled. Sphire said that he separates coach form dad, and that he doesn’t treat his son any differently, nor does his son expect to be treated differently, from his teammates on the field.
Speaking as a father, Coach Sphire said that “I am enjoying the heck out of coaching him (Hayden), and the experience of coaching him in the Corky Kell Classic at the Georgia Dome was definitely a bucket list thing.”
When asked about the most memorable players he has coached, Coach Sphire focused on the team concept, saying “I have been blessed with many players that each sacrificed so the team would be better.”
Friday will be a battle between two talented teams that are led by two outstanding coaches. If you are in the area, get out to Norcross High school to see what is sure to be a great football game between North Gwinnett and Norcross.
Watch for the Week 4 Preview of Gwinnett County teams in action on Thursday.