Once a star receiver for the Trojans who would go on to become an All-American at Georgia Southern, Albany native Corey Joyner wanted nothing more than to come home to Southwest Georgia and back to his roots after graduation. He did, but once the economy went south, so did Joyner’s life. But with the help of his family, friends and God, Joyner found his way again, earned his teaching certificate and started working at Dougherty — all the while hoping he might one day get a shot to coach his alma mater. When he didn’t get the open job two years ago, he didn’t fret and just stayed patient. Two years later, that patience has now been rewarded. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The next time you’re leafing through the Bible and you come to Job, look closely — the next chapter might just be named “Corey.”
There isn’t a chapter in the Old Testament called Corey, but Dougherty High’s new football coach knows all about trials and tribulations.
Corey Joyner, who starred at Dougherty when he was in high school, has had his own long journey to get where he is today — the coach of a once-proud program that has fallen on hard times. The Trojans, who once were the kings of football in Albany and the pride of the east side of town, and a state powerhouse, respected across Georgia, won just one game last year.
They’re 3-17 over the past two seasons and haven’t beaten anybody in Albany in almost three years. There are some who wonder if Joyner — or anyone else — can help Dougherty climb out of a hole that’s deep and wide with little light or hope shining on it.
“The one thing we are going to need to get back on top is patience,’’ Joyner said. “And after everything I have been through, the one thing I have is patience.’’
Job couldn’t have said it any better.
The bigger question is will the community give Joyner time to lift up the program, time to remold and reshape a football team that will bring back pride to Dougherty?
“It’s going to take time, and we know that,” said Vernon Bronner, who played on the offensive line back when the legendary John Reynolds was coaching Dougherty powerhouses to great seasons almost every year. “This isn’t a bandwagon thing. We’re going to be here for the long haul. The community is going to support him.’’
The community — football fans, alumni and even the players on the Dougherty team — supported Joyner two years ago when the job was open. A large group even went to the Dougherty School Board in a demonstration of support for Joyner, and the kids rallied at school in an effort to have Joyner, who was an assistant coach at the time, become their new head coach.
Joyner was told he didn’t meet the qualifications for the job, and the school board instead hired Jesse Hicks, an Albany State grad who had an incredible resumé. Hicks had taken over Baldwin when the Braves were mediocre and turned them into a state power. Hicks wanted to do the same at Dougherty, and promised he would bring glory back to “the eastside of Albany.”
After two years of struggling at 3-17, Hicks left in March to take the open job at Central Macon. There were 13 applicants from in and out of Georgia who applied for the Dougherty job.
Joyner was the last man to be interviewed.
But after months of deliberating, Joyner was the last man standing.
“It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take time, but after all the things I went through — being unemployed, not getting the job two years ago — all those things that happened to me taught me patience. It’s going to take a little time, but I’m here. I’ the guy who isn’t going anywhere after a couple of years if it’s not going well. If they give me three years, I promise we will be back.”
--- Corey Joyner, former Trojans football star and newly named Dougherty head football coach on overcoming adversity the past few years to land his dream job, which he promises to use to restore Dougherty football to prominence
“We were excited when he got the job,’’ said Bronner, who still lives in Albany. “They couldn’t have made a better choice. He’s someone who knows the program, someone who grew up in the program. That’s why he will bring a different type of commitment to the program. We know he’s the guy.’’
Joyner knew it, too.
God told him.
“I’m here because this is where God wants me to be,’’ said Joyner, a devout Christian and a man of faith. He is a lover of the Bible and has taught a men’s Bible study class at his church for years. He quotes scriptures quicker and easier than he ran pass routes at Dougherty and Georgia Southern, where he was an All-American receiver.
Joyner said when he hit the bottom — the sad and devastating abyss he fell into in 2008 — and lost everything, he would cling to Romans 8:28: “And we know all things work for good for them who love God.’’
“That’s what go me through it,’’ Joyner said. “It made my faith even stronger’’.
Joyner has a masters in business administration and left Albany in 2007 for Washington D.C. to take a job with General Dynamics, which gave him a lucrative salary.
“I was making real big money there,” Joyner said. “But I wanted to get married and come back to Albany. I left D.C. and had a job waiting for me, but in March 2008 when I came back home, the job wasn’t there.’’
Countless Americans lost their jobs in the crash of 2008, and suddenly in Albany and in thousands of towns just like Albany across the country, there was no work and little promise of getting work. Joyner was one of millions of victims. He had saved money from his job with General Dynamics and bought a house. He also got married. But after a few months, he started running out of money and simply couldn’t find work.
The only work he did have at the time was with the football program at Dougherty High. It wasn’t his first stint. He started volunteering his time as an assistant in 1999 after he left the Montreal Allouettes, who offered him a tryout in the Canadian Football League.
But by 2009, Joyner was near his end.
“I lost everything,’’ he said. “I was broke, flat broke. I lost my house, lost my wife, lost everything. I moved back home. I was living at home with no money and no job. But God provides. I remember sitting on the porch one day and I needed to find a way to get some money for my son, and didn’t know where the money would come from. A man pulled up in a car and said he bought junk cars. I had two junk cars, and I sold them to him for $150. The money came from God. God provides.’’
Joyner’s faith was tested over and over during that stretch of his life, but the greatest test came when he finally got a chance at a job with Procter & Gamble that would have brought him a nice salary and a future.
“I interviewed and got the job,’’ Joyner said. “I prayed about it, and asked God: ‘Is this where you want me to be?’ And God told me no, and I turned down the job. No joke. I got down on my knees that night, and asked God to tell me what to do, and he told me to take the (Georgia Assessments for Certification of Educators) test and become a teacher.’’
That was the first step to getting where he is today.
“I passed the test on the first try, and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that’s where God wanted me to be,” Joyner said. “I always wanted to be in business and had never thought about being a teacher. I asked my pastor at my church for direction, and he told me to be obedient to God. And then I wanted to be a teacher.’’
Joyner went to Dougherty and got a job teaching business education. He still teaches that class to this day. And after being a volunteer coach for 10 years, Joyner became an assistant coach and for the first time he got paid for coaching.
“God was lining up things for me to be where I am today,’’ Joyner said. “When you look at it, it gets to the point that it’s scary.
“When I turned down (Procter & Gamble) everyone thought I was crazy. Even I thought I was crazy,’’ Joyner added with a smile. “But I knew God had a purpose for me. If I hadn’t turned down the job at Procter & Gamble, I wouldn’t be the head coach at Dougherty today.”
Joyner said it didn’t crush him when he didn’t get the job two years ago, and he just believed God would show him the way.
“I got so much support from the community (two years ago),” he said. “I appreciated it. People wanted me to be the coach, and they went to the school board to fight for me. I am glad to have those people to stand up for me, but I am not the kind of guy who wants all that attention. When the job came up, I put my name in the hat, but they told me I didn’t meet the qualifications. They told me there was a minimum qualification that you had to be a coordinator or a head coach and I didn’t meet the qualifications.
“(But) they knew me. They knew what I could do. I was a homegrown guy. But I didn’t meet the qualifications. But if God had wanted me to be the coach two years ago, I would have gotten the job. I let it go that day.”
He says he didn’t resent Hicks, either. And two weeks before the season started, one of the coaches Hicks planned to being with him to Dougherty decided not to come, and Hicks named Joyner the new defensive coordinator.
“I like coach Hicks, and I learned a lot from him,’’ Joyner said. “I respected the fact they hired someone like coach Hicks. I would have hired coach Hicks. I think if he would have stayed, he would have gotten the program back up again.’’
But Hicks, like so many others who came and left quickly, was at Dougherty just two years. Joyner won’t leave.
“Dougherty has had a carousel of coaches come in here and leave after two or three years,’’ Joyner said. “But I’m not going anywhere.’’
It’s not just that he’s a homegrown guy.
Joyner can coach.
“He knows what it takes,’’ said Cleatus Hopkins, who was Dougherty’s head coach back in 2000 and now coaches the offensive line at Westover. “He’s been around several years. He not only has knowledge of the program and the community, but he knows the kids. He’s trying to bring Dougherty back to the standards it was in years ago when everyone respected Dougherty, and he can do it, because he will instill in those kids what it takes to be a winner and the importance of brotherhood and family in a football team.
“And he’s an excellent coach. He’s a great Xs-and-Os coach, and he’s a great motivator and a great teacher. He doesn’t just talk the game, he teaches the game.”
Joyner is a hands-on coach. He is all over the practice field, showing kids what to do and how to do it, bouncing from position to position with enough energy to inspire anyone. He jokes and laughs and can be hysterical all at once on the field.
He had a new group show up last week to join the team. They hadn’t been cleared to play or outfitted with pads and uniforms. Joyner told them to come to practice, and they could run the track and start conditioning.
He looked up from the practice field to see the kids sitting in the bleachers watching practice.
“What are you doing? You’re sitting there like you’re in Big Daddy’s Lounge waiting to order a margarita,’’ Joyner said.
The kids hit the track and started running to get into shape.
“He’s a great coach, and everyone wanted him to be our coach,’’ said Kenny Johnson, a junior cornerback. “He was our defensive coordinator last year, and he’s going to be a great head coach. He knows the game, and he gets after us.’’
At one point during practice last week, Joyner wanted to make his point, so he yelled.
“Go ahead and do it that way — that way got you to 1-9! Keep doing it that way, and you’ll be 1-9 again! You might want to try it this way,’’ he said with a smile.
The kids believe in him.
“He’s a veteran of the game, and he is from Dougherty,’’ said Mike Whatley, a sophomore quarterback. “He’s here to make a change, and we all believe we can do it. Everyone was real happy when he got the job.”
Joyner’s younger brother Uyl, who was the starting QB for Dougherty’s state champion team in 1998 and is now the offensive coordinator at Albany State, knows a lot of reasons why Corey will succeed where others haven’t at Dougherty.
“He’s such a hard worker,’’ he said. “People never see how hard he works. His hard work made me a better player. We used to go out at midnight and throw the football under the street lights. Sometimes it would be so dark we cold barely see the ball. Corey always wanted to work while everyone else was sleeping. I was a quarterback in middle school and he would say, ‘Get your shoes on, we’re going to throw the football.’ I never had to ask if was serious. I knew he was serious.
“He will work hard and do everything and give everything and use everything he’s got to make that team better, and he will be more of an education guy than they have had before and push to make sure they get an education. As a football coach, there is no question about his football knowledge. He has been an offensive coordinator, a defensive coordinator and the special teams coordinator, and he will use it all.’’
His biggest strength may be where he grew up.
“We always say it takes a special person to coach eastside kids,’’ Uyl said. “And he is an eastside kid and knows what this team needs. He knows these kids. It’s going to take some time. He doesn’t have a magic wand. But if he gets some time he will turn it around at Dougherty.’’
His patience and faith have brought Corey this far, and he believes it will carry him through whatever lies ahead. He has always been the calm in the storm.
Uyl said even when his brother lost everything, Corey never complained.
“He lost his house, his wife, his son, and didn’t have a job, but he just stayed to himself and never talked about it or complained about it,’’ Uly said. “And when he didn‘t get the job two years ago, that was hard on him. It wasn’t that he didn’t get the job, but he didn’t even get an interview. Even though people were telling him to fight it, he said, ‘I’m not going to fight it. I will leave it in God’s hands.’ ”
The community was let down, though.
“We were extremely disappointed when he didn’t get the job,’’ Bronner said. “We think he deserved it then, and if he had gotten the job then, we would be in a different place now.’’
Now just about everyone in the Dougherty community is elated Joyner has arrived.
“I’m so excited he’s the coach,’’ said Ronnie Gordon, who was the quarterback for the 1991 Trojans. Gordon now lives in Chicago but he — along with about a dozen other players from that team — came by the school to speak to the Dougherty football team last week when they were in town for their 20th class reunion.
“Everyone wanted him to get the job,” Gordon added. “He’s a great motivator, and he will instill the pride of being a Trojan and instill in them how to be a young man. He’s a model example for them and a great coach. He knows what Trojan pride is all about. It’s going to take some time, but Corey is the guy for the job.’’
Those Dougherty eastside roots run deep.
More than 350 members of the alumni showed up earlier this month to show their support for Joyner on alumni day — the most in recent memory.
“They all wanted to help,” Joyner said. “Last year on the last game of the season we had nine people (watching us) in the stands at Americus. Those days are over. We’ve already had a lot of former players come through here to talk to the team and make donations to the program, putting their money into the program. One guy put up the money to buy all our shoes. People want to see us bring the program back.’’
Life has come full circle for Joyner, who got his life back. He is back with his wife Sjakira and his two sons, and their marriage is stronger than ever.
“The things I went through, and the things she went through, we don’t let anything come between us now,” Joyner said. “I had so much appreciation for a second chance.”
And now he has a chance to give Dougherty a new beginning.
“It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take time, but after all the things I went through, being unemployed, not getting the job two years ago — all those things that happened to me taught me patience,’’ Joyner said. “It’s going to take a little time, but I’m here. I’ the guy who isn’t going anywhere after a couple of years if it’s not going well.”
Joyner then added: “If they give me three years, I promise we will be back. I’m not worried about losing my job. God told me I was going to get this job back in March, and I was in church the night I got a bunch of texts telling me I got the job.
“I didn’t celebrate, because I knew I had the job when God told me in March. Honest, I never worried. And I‘m not worried about losing the job. God put me here, and the only one who can take me from here is God. I’m right where I need to be — right where God put me.”