CONYERS - For Earle Graham, things got a little smaller and a little bigger all at the same time.
Graham was recently named the new Rockdale County High School athletics director, replacing Casey Martin.
It's his first position on the administrative side, but Graham is hardly a rookie.
He started in Atlanta Public Schools and moved to Gwinnett County schools - Duluth (two seasons) and Berkmar (nine) - his last stop peaking with the 2001 boys state basketball championship as an assistant coach. Now, Graham moves from jam-packed Gwinnett to a more quaint Conyers.
"The school system is smaller, you can kind of touch the kids personally a little bit better," Graham said. "It makes me have a little more personal contact with the students. I like that aspect of Rockdale County; you get to know more people."
Graham, a Vietnam veteran who in 2007 was the recipient of a doctorate in physical education from the University of Georgia, makes no bones about his most important mission as athletics director - continued improvement academically.
"We're going to stress academics; very high stress on academics and student behavior," Graham said. "When (the students) go out there, they represent Rockdale County, so we want to put the best appearance that we possibly can and we want the best students academically, so when it's time to come calling the grades will be there. We really have students who are concerned with their academic achievements."
While the long-term goals lie in the development of the student-athlete, filling coaching vacancies seems to be Graham's immediate concern. Four girls programs - softball, track and field, golf and lacrosse - are without coaches.
On the boys side, baseball recently filled its vacancy when Justin Arrington took over for Martin and every other coaching spot is secured for the upcoming 2009-10 school year.
"Filling coaching positions is the No. 1 issue," Graham said. "Trying to get those filled now; (they're) looking for people with experience."
Graham was told by Rockdale principal Georgi Brown that he wouldn't have to be one of those coaches, instead devoting all of his energy to the athletic department as a whole. It was a big selling point for Graham.
"That's one of the things I was impressed about is that (Brown) didn't want someone to be coaching, that they can concentrate on the entire athletic program," Graham said. "I was looking to move the athletic program forward to the next level; a level that we are ranked as one of the best athletic programs in the entire state of Georgia."
Kurt Aschermann Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.