Mark Hollars isn’t from Georgia and has only been coaching in the state for five years. But he was well aware of Commerce’s football tradition and wanted to be part of it.
Hollars, who spent the past five seasons turning around North Cobb Christian’s program, has been hired as Commerce High School’s next football coach.
“I think it’s one of the best high-school jobs, not only in the state of Georgia, but it’s a special place,” Hollars said. “There’s a great tradition there. There’s a community that’s 100 percent behind you. It’s a place where football is important, and that’s exciting.”
Commerce principal Will Smith announced Hollars’ hiring on Friday. The move came roughly three weeks after the resignation of Michael Brown, who stepped down on March 23 after compiling a 73-25 record in eight seasons. Commerce received 48 applicants for the job opening, with the school interviewing five candidates.
Commerce used a seven-person committee to conduct the head-coaching search.
“I can’t say enough great things about them,” Smith said of the committee. “We all worked together … I feel everybody there had Commerce kids and the Commerce community in our interest and the football program. We’re just excited. We’re excited for a new day in Commerce, and I think the kids are excited.”
Hollars comes to Commerce after going 30-25 in five seasons with North Cobb Christian, including a 26-9 mark over the last three years. He guided the Eagles to three-straight state playoff appearances in GHSA Class A-Private, including a 10-2 record and quarterfinals finish in 2018.
The 52-year-old spent most of his career in his native Ohio and worked five years as an assistant coach at a Washington, D.C.-area school before taking over at North Cobb Christian. He was originally hired as an assistant coach at the Kennesaw-area private school, but the head coach there at the time left eight days before the 2016 season began.
Hollars quickly moved into the head coaching role and eventually built the Eagles into a winner. The program went from 0-10 in 2016 to 10-2 in 2018, advancing to the third round of the playoffs. North Cobb Christian had never reached the postseason prior to Hollars’ arrival.
“We took our lumps that first year, but thankfully, we had a bunch of kids that bought into the program, and it’s been a good run the last few years,” Hollars said.
Hollars uses a triple-option offense — Commerce’s long-standing offensive scheme — which created some familiarity already with the Tigers’ program.
“Being a triple-option coach, coach Brown and I would talk and share information, so I know a little bit about it,” Hollars said.
His specialty in the triple option was only part of what led to his hiring, according to Smith.
“It was part of the equation, but not really … He’s just an old-school football guy,” Smith said. “His presence, his attitude, his commitment towards the kids, I’ve just heard nothing but ‘the kids will do anything for him.’ The more people I talked to about him made me realize that he is the best guy to come to Commerce High School.”
SMALL-TOWN, BLUE COLLAR ROOTS
While Hollars is from out-of-state, he sees his background as very similar to his new coaching home. Hollars was born and raised in Ohio in Avon, which he said was a similar town to Commerce.
“I grew up in a small, blue collar town,” Hollars said.
Hollars’ father worked at Ford for 32 years; his grandfather worked at U.S. Steel. Hollars’ uncles were head coaches in Ohio, one of which is a member of Ohio’s high school coaching hall of fame.
“Ohio football is good football, and I’ve really been around some good people to be honest with you,” Hollars said.
A former quarterback, Hollars’ football career was cut short with two surgeries in college, but he counts that experience “as a blessing in disguise,” because it jumped started his career in coaching while still in college.
“I was fortunate to get started at a young age,” Hollars said.
Hollars’ career arc has largely been one of taking on rebuilding projects, similar to the situation at North Cobb Christian, and molding them into playoff teams. But at Commerce, he’ll take over a program with over 600 wins, two state championships and 24 straight playoff appearances to its credit.
“It’s nice to come to a place where that tradition is already there,” Hollars said.
Hollars said he believes in physical football, hard-nosed defense and a physical running game. That Commerce has been running the triple option for decades is yet another plus for Hollars.
“I know Commerce believes in that, and the kids have been raised that way and trained that way,” Hollars said. “So, obviously, that’s exciting.”
Hollars noted that his version of the triple option will look very similar to the triple-option scheme the Tigers ran so well under Brown.
“If you watched our film at North Cobb Christian and Commerce film, you’d see a lot of similarities,” he said.
‘BEING PART OF A COMMUNITY’
Hollars said he’s looking forward to working in a community whose values align so closely with his. He considers Commerce a unique place.
“It’s harder to find places that like hard-hosed physical football and believe and embrace those blue-collar values,” he said. “The world’s changing, and the way we play football is changing. It’s nice to be part of a community that still believes in those things.”
Hollars also points to his overarching vision.
“It’s about being a part of a community about raising young men,” he said. “That’s important to me. If the only thing we do is football, then we’ve failed these young men. I’m looking forward to helping young men become good husbands and good fathers and good contributing members of their community.”