ATHENS — David Perno is taking his talents to Clarke Central High School. And he’ll be doing it as a football coach.
Perno, Georgia’s former baseball coach and a highly-successful one at that, is returning to the coaching arena at his alma mater. But he’s doing it in a sport he hasn’t coached or played since high school. The 48-year-old native Athenian was introduced to the Gladiators as their new football coach at 11 a.m. Thursday morning.
“Everyone that knows me and goes back with me a ways always thought I was a football coach coaching baseball,” Perno said. “Through the years you adjust and get into that baseball mold, but I’ve always had a good football mind. I love the game; I understand the game; I like the flow of the game. And I’m really excited about this.”
Perno said he actually was hired on Tuesday by Clarke Central Athletic Director Jon Ward. He interviewed with Ward and Principal Robbie Hooker on Monday night.
Perno was the Bulldogs’ baseball coach for 12 seasons from 2002-2013. In that time, he went 384-329-1 and guided Georgia to six postseason appearances, including three College World Series berths. The Bulldogs played for the national championship in 2008.
But Perno had two players suffer paralyzing injuries — Chance Veazey in a scooter accident and Jonathan Taylor in a game — in a span of less than two years from 2009-11, and the program took a downturn soon after. He was dismissed by UGA Athletic Director Greg McGarity after a 15-26 season in 2013.
Perno has not been able to get back into coaching in baseball. He has been coaching travel baseball and basketball with his son, Hayes, and daughter, Saidee, the past two years while also working as a college baseball analyst for the SEC Network. He said he’ll continue to do some broadcasting work for ESPN.
“Frustrating,” Perno said of being unable to land another college coaching job. “Didn’t understand, and still don’t. I guess I never will. I just got tired of not belonging to a team, of not being part of an organization working for one purpose, one mission, one goal. That’s what I got tired of. That’s what I found out I missed the most. You miss the relationships with the players and the camaraderie of the team and seeing everything come together. That was hard.”
Perno will be able to rekindle his competitive fires at Clarke Central. He’ll be succeeding Ahren Self, who failed to lead the Gladiators to the state playoffs for the last two years and went 4-6 this past season. Clarke Central has been to the playoffs only once since 2011.
That’s a far cry from where the program was when Perno played there. Perno was a starting fullback under legendary coach Billy Henderson and their teams won a state championship in 1985 and played for another in 1984.
“I know what the program is capable of,” he said.
Perno was hired by Clarke Central Athletic Director John Ward and Principal Robbie Hooker on Tuesday. As for reacquainting himself with the game of football, Perno said he has been studying up and plans on relying heavily on experienced assistant coaches.
But he believes most of his coaching principles will translate well to the gridiron.
“To me it’s more appealing from the standpoint of strategy,” Perno said. “You can scheme a lot more than you can in baseball. Football gives you a chance if you put in the prep. Obviously I’m behind a little in terminology. But it’s still about players making plays, not X’s and O’s. And as far as execution and motivating and how your players are supposed to act, I’m well ahead in those areas.”
It represents the third time Perno has returned to coach at a place he played. In addition to Georgia, he also coached at Middle Georgia College, where he was a junior college player.
“Who knows? Maybe in 10 years I’ll go back to the YMCA,” Perno quipped.
“I don’t understand why things didn’t work out (in baseball). But, you know what, it’s not my job to understand. I’m going to take advantage of all the blessings God gave me and this is where he’s putting me now. I’m really excited about it.”