When University of Georgia football coach Mark Richt fired three defensive assistants after the 2009 regular season, two resurfaced quickly.
Defensive coordinator Willie Martinez became the secondary coach at Oklahoma and linebackers coach John Jancek took the same job at Cincinnati, but defensive ends coach Jon Fabris opted for a break. After turning down Louisville’s defensive line opening several days after accepting the job, Fabris stayed away for 18 months until jumping back in last week as defensive line coach at Northwest Mississippi Community College.
“My nine years in Athens were the most I’ve ever spent in one place,” Fabris said. “My wife and I certainly liked it there and wish we could have stayed. I tried to stay there, but you can’t eat dirt after a while.
“This is not some kind of script that you would write out. It wasn’t like I dialed in on the Mississippi junior colleges. It just kind of happened.”
Fabris accepted the offer at Northwest Mississippi after coming up short for the head-coaching vacancy at Division III Sewanee, where he was among five finalists.
The adjustments the 54-year-old son of legendary Rossville High coach Frank Fabris must make are too plentiful to count. He won’t be making $202,241 in tiny Senatobia like he did during his final season with the Bulldogs. He won’t be helping out with 85 four-year players but instead 55 two-year players, and game-day crowds will be more like 9,000 than 90,000.
“He said his favorite days were Tuesday and Wednesday in practice, so that won’t be different for him,” Northwest Mississippi head coach Ricky Woods said. “The game-type situations certainly will.”
Fabris joined Richt’s inaugural staff in 2001 after stints with Notre Dame, Kansas State, South Carolina and the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. After coaching Charles Grant in 2001, Fabris inherited David Pollack in the spring of 2002 and helped turn the former defensive tackle into an All-American end for three straight seasons.
Pollack was the greatest Georgia player Fabris coached, but he also helped Quentin Moses (2005), Charles Johnson (2006) and Justin Houston (2009) earn all-conference honors. In fact, before the ’09 season, The Sporting News tabbed Fabris as the best position coach in the SEC.
“I know what I was a part of at Georgia, and I also know that no one is perfect,” Fabris said. “Even Bear Bryant had back-to-back six-win seasons at Alabama, but I’m very proud that I was part of a program that finished in the top 10 six times in nine years. Seven of the top 12 Georgia players in career sacks were players I coached, and I’m proud that most all of the punt-return records in school history were set by the units I coached.
“It is not a case where you leave with your head down. Things happen for various reasons, whether it’s pressure or politics. They are things you have no control over.”
Fabris is no stranger to the state of Mississippi, having played at Starkville High and Ole Miss, but it’s foreign to wife Marcy and sons Jack (7) and Mike (5). All four will live in Oxford, roughly a half-hour drive from Senatobia.
Though the past 18 months have been difficult from a professional sense, Fabris has cherished the uninterrupted time he has spent being a father.
“When we were fired, I really didn’t know Mike, who was 3 at the time, but I can honestly say I know him now,” he said. “I’ve had the opportunity to do things with my sons that I would never have the opportunity to do in a lot of jobs.”
Family time should be more abundant for Fabris at Northwest Mississippi than in previous stops. Only eight of the program’s players are allowed to be from out-of-state, and Woods said the 47 in-state players are from a nine-county area around Senatobia.
“The recruiting part is going to be a lot less for him,” Woods said. “We go and watch high school games, but you can drive to them and be back before midnight. He’s going to have a lot more time to spend with his family, and I think that was a big drawing card for him.”
Most of Northwest Mississippi’s games are on Thursday nights, which will leave Fabris free every Saturday. He hasn’t decided if he will take his family to Ole Miss games, pointing out his kids still love to wear their Georgia apparel.
Fabris admits his ghost will walk the halls of the Butts-Mehre athletic complex in Athens, and he has no clue what’s in store next.
“I don’t know if this is a change-of-life kind of deal or if something else is going to happen,” he said. “I know I can still coach circles around some other people in coaching. I don’t know what this is all about, but I do know what I’ve gained in the last year and a half. God has given me priceless time with my children.”
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...