Getting to know Coach Gregory Q&A article from the Gwinnett Daily Post.
By Taylor Denman
Collins Hill head football Coach Lenny Gregory wrapped up his first season with the Eagles at 6-5. Gregory’s start at Collins Hill was a return to Gwinnett County football, where he was a defensive coordinator at Grayson before accepting his first head coaching opportunity at Centennial. Gregory is a California native who played college football at Brigham Young University from 1989 to 1993. Gregory’s wife is Kathy, and his children are Gabby, 24, son Hayden, 22, son Jacob, 19, son Max, 4, stepdaughter Savannah, 14, stepson James, 13.
In this installment of “Getting to Know …,” staff writer Taylor Denman asked Gregory about the journey he took to his first head coaching job, his favorite sports movies and playing under Lavell Edwards at BYU.
TD: Let’s start in the middle of your story. When you first took the Centennial job you said it was a dream to be a head coach.
LG: It was kind of a childhood dream. Since I was kid, I wanted to be a head football coach. When I was in college at BYU playing football, I went down a different path and didn’t go into education. I got a different degree and went into the lumber business and did that for 12 years. It’s funny when you’re younger and you make decisions and it ends up steering you away from what you want to do.
TD: What was it like growing up in California and what were your high school playing days like?
LG: I grew up in Santa Rosa, Calif., and went to Montgomery High School. I didn’t play football until my sophomore year. I always wanted to play college football and had dreams of playing in the NFL. I didn’t come from a football family. Youth football in California went by weight, so when I was in eighth grade I was too heavy to play football. I learned the game quick and had a passion for it. I had a good junior year and in my senior year, I was all-state. I got recruited by most of the PAC-10 schools and ended up at BYU.
TD: What positions did you play?
LG: I was a defensive lineman, nose guard. Ended up being a three-year starter at BYU and three-year all-conference player.
TD: Picking up football late and having those opportunities in college, does that seem abnormal to you, looking back?
LG: It is abnormal. Usually, kids nowadays play at a young age. These kids are getting college offers in eighth grade. It seems like it’s getting younger and younger — which is unfortunate, too, because there are players you bring out in their junior and sophomore year, you bring them out and they’re naturals. On a norm, usually, kids have played for a while.
TD: At BYU you played under legendary coach Lavell Edwards (22nd all-time with 257 career wins). Is there anything you took from him that you use as a head coach now?
LG: Coach Edwards impacted my life in so many ways. When you’re a player being mentored by a guy like him, you don’t know just how much of an impact a guy like him is until you get 10 years down the line and you think about the things he did. Then 20 years down the line you think about more things. There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t sit back and think about him and things he would do.
One of the biggest things I learned from him is building relationships with players. Being readily available to talk, mentor, council and show that you care. Lavell Edwards, you walked into the football office, his door was always open. His policy was, “My door is open, and if you need to talk to me, come on in and we’ll talk.” Thinking back on it now, as high school coaches it’s sometimes easily lost, making yourself available to your players. These kids go through so much it’s unbelievable.
TD. What moments stand out to you during your playing career at BYU?
LG: I think the experience itself, playing against teams like Notre Dame. My junior year we beat Penn State in a big game we weren’t supposed to win. My redshirt year I was dressed on the sideline and we beat Miami, the No. 1 team in the country. Probably the highlight of my playing career was my sophomore year we played Utah. I had two interceptions as a defensive lineman, in a game where the interceptions really led to touchdowns that really sparked the football game.
TD: You went into the business world after college. Were you thinking about coaching at that time, or was it something in the back of your mind?
LG: I actually signed in the Canadian Football League. The had a couple expansion teams, and I signed with the Las Vegas Posse. I ended up making the team and went into it uneducated, if you will, about how contracts work. When we were getting ready for our preseason games, I learned about how much money I would make on the practice squad. I was kind of blown away. It was already a little amount of money we would make playing, and I was getting paid on the practice squad. I made a decision to walk away from football.
TD: Was that tough at the time to walk away from the game that had given you a lot of opportunities?
LG: I think at the time it wasn’t but then a year later, when I started working in the lumber business — I lost a bunch of weight and didn’t think about football — I was running through the hills of West Virginia, learning how to analyze timber with a forester. I went from being 270 pounds to 220 pounds. I got a call from the British Columbia Lions that they had acquired my rights and wanted me to try out. That was probably the low point, and I remember thinking to myself that I had made the decision and I had stayed with it now. I ended up going all into lumber sales and had a pretty successful journey there.
TD: How did you make your way to Georgia?
LG: I got offered a partnership with a company, if I were to take a job with them I would own 25 percent of the company. I took that job and part of that agreement, because I traveled, was to live in Atlanta. I really liked Atlanta and thought it was a good place to raise a family, so I moved in 1998.
TD: Was the Grayson eighth-grade team you first entrance into coaching at that point?
LG: No, it’s an interesting story. In 2001, I was cutting grass and a guy by the name of Leman Hall, who played for the Dallas Cowboys, his son was a sixth- or seventh-grader on a rec team and he wanted me to help. First I turned him down, he came back to me and was kind of persistent. He invited me to his father-in-law’s retirement party. So I agreed. His father-in-law was Homer Smith, he was the offensive coordinator at UCLA when I was at BYU. I got to talking to him and said, “Yeah I’ll coach.” I coached an 11- and 12-year-old football team at Sharon Springs Park. Northview opened up and the neighborhood I lived in was right across the street. Some of the dads starting the youth program asked me to be the eighth-grade coach at Northview High School.
TD: At what point did you shift over to Gwinnett?
LG: I became a community coach at South Forsyth. In 2004 I went to Chattahoochee as a community coach and after the 2006 season, I went to teaching in 2007. I got out of the lumber business, I was 35 years old, and here I am back coaching football, but I’m stuck in another job. At 35, if I don’t make a decision right there, then I’ll regret not going into coaching. In 2008 I went to Grayson.
TD: During this period, you’re working, coaching and getting a degree. Meanwhile, you have your family, all of this at once, then?
LG: Oh yeah, I was able to get my degree online. Coaching, teaching and doing classes all at the same time.
TD: A couple of your sons have actually played for you. How special is that extra bond of not only being a father but being their coach as well?
LG: It was a blessing to go to work with your kid, and to share unbelievable moments with them. The emotions of a football game, whether you won or you lost. Just all the great memories you have, and you’re able to do it with your son. I was able to win a state championship with my oldest son, Hayden. To be able to hug him after a victory like that is priceless.
TD: It seems like you develop close relationships with your players. I read that you were the legal guardian for Robert Nkemdiche. Does that come from what you talked about with coach Edwards, being a mentor?
LG: BYU was a special place. You see all of these teams us “family.” And that’s all great, but BYU where I played really was like a family. It wasn’t uncommon our defensive line coach would have us over at his house Thursday night. They made homemade root beer and ice cream. You feel like you’re a part of their family. As a coach, I wanted to invite players over and cook for them, especially as a position coach. You have a unit of kids playing for you, and it was something I really believed in. Definitely, something I picked up on at BYU.
TD: With the first year at Collins Hill in the books, does Collins Hill have a bright future now, moving forward?
LG: Of course we’re all going to say that. That’s the vision. We probably exceeded people’s expectations, I don’t think anyone picked us to be a playoff team. I’m excited how quick we were able to turn things around and create a culture where excellence is a standard.
TD: Do you have any favorite sports movies?
LG: Gotta be “Rocky.”
TD: You can almost make another genre out of “Rocky.” Why “Rocky?”
LG: He’s the underdog and a hard-working guy. You can just relate to him. I think everybody in America can relate to him, a blue-collar guy.
TD: What do you think about the College Football Playoff? I’m putting you on the spot.
LG: I think the team that’s hot and playing unbelievable defense has to be Georgia. Living in Georgia you have to pull for them. It might be the best Final Four since we’ve done this. Oklahoma has a great offense, to me they’re probably No. 3 because they don’t play as good a defense as you see in the SEC or ACC.
TD: Any shows that you’re binge-watching now?
LG: I really do like Netflix, because you don’t have to watch commercials. You’ve got “Narcos.” I’ve gotten into that. “Last Chance U” is on there. I’m on “The Punisher” right now. Usually at night — I’ve got a 4-year-old — once he’s down I’ll flip it on and watch a couple episodes.
TD: Without sounding too morbid, what is your ideal last meal?
LG: It’s gotta be wings. Hot wings and fries.
TD: Are you a fan of different flavors or classic hot?
LG: Oh, just classic hot, all flats with ranch.