BLUEFIELD — There wasn’t much time for goodbyes from Garin Justice.
Early this week Justice resigned as head football coach at Concord to accept a position as offensive line coach at NCAA Division I Florida Atlantic.
He started that job on Saturday in Boca Raton, Fla.
“It was difficult, my timetable is a little bit exasperated, they want me in town on Saturday and our guys don’t show up until the first day of classes on Monday here at Concord,” said Justice, a Gilbert native.
“I would have loved to have had the chance to address them personally and let them see me one on one and frankly it would have been easier because I wanted to do it the right way.”
Justice has spent much of the week on the phone, not only calling nearly all his players at Concord, but also beginning to develop a relationship with the offensive linemen waiting for him in Florida.
“I got through to probably 99 percent of the guys before the news got out so I wanted to let them know that I loved them and I cared about them,” Justice said.
“If it hadn’t been for them and guys in the past at Concord this thing wouldn’t have been possible, but at the same time change is inevitable and growth is optional and they have to take this thing and still find a way to grow.”
The 33-year-old Justice leaves behind quite a legacy at Concord. He spent two years as an assistant under Mike Kellar and the last five as head coach.
In the head coaching position he posted a 40-17 record, including a pair of conference titles and his Mountain Lions advanced to the NCAA Division II national semifinals in 2014.
“I think the biggest thing when I came to Concord University I was 26 years old and I was still molding into who I was as a coach,” said Justice, a graduate of West Virginia University, where he was also an offensive lineman for five years learning under the tutelage of position coach Rick Trickett.
“I had some ideas, but it was the first time I actually got to be the guy as far as working with my own position group.
“Two years later I was blessed and fortunate enough that (athletic director) Kevin Garrett made a bold move to hire a young and unproven 28-year-old coach and gave me the opportunity to be a head coach.
“I just think the amount of experience and growth will be personally something I will forever take with me.”
Justice leaves with the fifth most wins by a football coach at Concord, and his winning percentage (.702) is third best among qualified coaches. He helped continue the development of a program that was 0-11 as recently as 2008.
“I know you will look at Concord University seven years from now and Concord University football now, people can say Garin Justice left this place a lot better off than what he found it,” said Justice, who is a native of Gilbert in Mingo County.
“I am happy that I was part of that legacy that had some success and helped turn around a program that was fluttering a little bit and to make it something special again at a place we all know in the area that it should and could be.
“It was something really special and something I will always cherish.”
Justice was first approached about a position at Florida Atlantic by Trickett’s son, Travis, who was named the offensive coordinator for the Owls under head coach Charlie Partridge.
When the offensive line coach left for another job, the phone rang. Justice listened, and liked what he heard.
“It seemed like good timing and there is a comfort level between me and him,”said Justice, who worked with Travis and under his father as a graduate assistant for three years at Florida State.
They had actually talked about the possibility of working together in the same exact positions that they now find themselves in.
“You are like wouldn’t it be cool if he is the OC and I am the offensive line coach and we get to help build something at a Division I program,” Justice said. “It is kind of one of those thoughts that you would have one night just sitting around the TV and it is becoming reality. I have an opportunity that was very fulfilling to me and it is a special time. When you throw in the fact that you are living in Boca Raton, Fla., that doesn’t hurt things either.”
Justice, who is married with a 19-month old daughter, will join a program that was first started in 2001 by legendary head coach Howard Schnellenberger.
The Owls, who were 3-9 last season, left the Sun Belt Conference for Conference USA in 2013, and will be traveling to nearby Marshall next season.
“Hopefully we will have a homecoming, we will have some people to root us on next year,” he said. “I am sure it will be pretty easy for me to find tickets, not that we have a lot of West Virginia natives on our roster, but it will be a nice homecoming next year.”
That homecoming can wait. Justice was anxious to get busy.
“More than anything I am worried about getting to work and enjoying the experience and hopefully growing some more and having some more success and even more than we did at Concord,” said Justice, who will transition back from a head coach to an assistant.
“I think I will want to gravitate to the head of the table,” said Justice, with a laugh. “I think being able to be a head coach, being able to have those experiences will allow me to step back as an assisant coach, it is going to allow me to be a better assistant coach because I understand what it is like to sit in that chair, I understand what it is like to make those tough decisions. I am also looking forward to more growth, I am looking forward to learning from someone else and creating new experiences and taking that step further in my growth and development as a coach.”
Justice will take plenty of good memories from Concord.
“The biggest thing for me, I have always said Concord is home, Concord is a great place,” said Justice, whose brother, Gehrig, is also a Concord graduate and is currently a coach at River View High School in Bradshaw. “I am at a place where I am a head coach, we are winning and the program is going in the right direction. I really felt it would take something really special to pull me away. When this opportunity at Florida Atlantic presented itself from one of my best friends, the dominos kind of fell.”
It also fell in with his goals as a coach, which includes being a Division I offensive line coach and perhaps an FCS head coach in the future.
“I just felt like it was the right time and the right move to make,” Justice said. “It was definitely with a heavy heart that I had to make it, but at the same time I felt like it was something that was best for me and my family at the time.”
Justice was asked about the possibility of returning some day to West Virginia, perhaps leading the Mountaineers. Those dreams do exist, but certainly not right now.
“I think you have certain goals in your life and this is definitely a step toward goals and ambitions, but of course West Virginia University is a place I consider home and if an opportunity presents itself way down the road, hey, I am sure I will be interested,” Justice said. “That is the furthest thing from my head right now because I am just excited to get to work down there because there is a lot to be excited about at Florida Atlantic.
“It is a young team, an enthuasiastic coach, a great location in the heart of where some of the best players in the country are at so having a chance to experience that and be a part of another program and their growth is something I am excited about and ready to just roll my sleeves up and get to work and try to make those guys a winner.”
Sounds like what he was part of at Concord.
“The biggest memory and the biggest takeaway I will have is all those guys’ faces, all the people in the locker room that I have been able to be touched by and hopefully I have affected their lives as well,” Justice said. “Those guys, in 20 or 30 years from now while I am still coaching those guys will still be in my memory and those guys will still be very special to me because they helped make this thing go.
“They had such a competitive spirit and drive that really made our run at Concord something that will be memorable for a lot of people.”
Justice will be in Florida Saturday to begin the next stage in his career, but Concord will always be close to his heart.
“I can definitely feel proud that I left the place a lot better than what I found it,” Justice said. “Hopefully the next guy leaves Concord a whole lot better than I was left it for him.
“If we do that Concord will continue to be the great school that we all know it is.”