CONYERS -- Vernon Denmark, who has spent the last six years as the head basketball coach at Heritage, will be coaching elsewhere next season.
The veteran will transition from Heritage to Stockbridge, where he will take over the reins of the Class AAAAA program that finished last season with a 10-16 record. Denmark leaves Heritage with a career 111-55 record in his six-year stint and helped the Patriots to Final Four appearances in each of the past two seasons.
Denmark's decision to leave Heritage boiled down to timing, he said.
"I felt like the timing was good with graduating so many seniors," Denmark said. "The next class is going to be mostly rising juniors. So it's kind of guys that I haven't gotten to yet. I felt the timing was good for a new coach to come in and work with a new crop."
After spending several years as an assistant coach at Rockdale County before accepting a head coaching position at Heritage before the start of the 2013-14 season - his first stint as a head coach - leaving Heritage was no easy decision.
"It was a great experience," Denmark said. "To look at how I started six years ago and kind of how things have built and improved over the years. I felt like it was a real culmination of what we were able to put in and what type of program I wanted to build here."
That was probably my ultimate goal when I got to Heritage. To put the program on the right track and put it where it's one of the top programs in the state. I'm hoping that I'm leaving it that way and that it's a great fit for the next coach that comes in and picks up there."
Denmark thanked the likes of long-time Athletic Director Chuck Landy and fellow Heritage coaches for making his time at Heritage some of the best years of his life.
"Being a first-time head coach when I started at Heritage, I don't think I could have asked for anything more," Denmark said. "Coach Landy was the epitome of what I would look for in an Athletic Director. He never tried to step in and overstep his boundaries, but was always there when we needed him. I'm definitely going to miss his mentorship and tutelage that he gave me."
I'm going to miss the camaraderie with all of the other coaches that I had there. Coach Corey Johnson, Shane Ramsey, Blair Barksdale and Brandon Stewart. We all were such a close-knit family and could talk about anything. We all had the same ideals in mind and that's something that I hope I find when I go to Stockbridge."
Denmark found instant success at Heritage. After inheriting a 9-17 program from the season before, the first-year head coach led the Patriots to a 20-6 record. In his second season, Denmark helped the Patriots to a 20-10 record, advancing to the Sweet 16.
In his third season, Denmark and the Patriots made their second straight strip to the Class AAAAA state playoffs, narrowly losing to South Paulding in the first round. The Patriots finished the season with 19 wins.
In year No. 4, the Patriots posted an 18-7 regular season record before suffering a disappointing 77-71 overtime loss to Coffee High School in the first round of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs.
With a 1-3 record in the playoffs entering his fifth season as the Patriots head coach, Denmark and the Patriots broke through with their first trip to the Final Four since 1985.
In Denmark's final season at the helm, an up-and-down regular season that saw the Patriots enter the playoffs as a No. 3 seed, did not stop the Patriots from making a run back to the Final Four. The Patriots fell six points shy of advancing to the state title game after a 52-46 loss to Tucker.
The success Denmark and the Patriots had in his run all started with the kids he was able to coach and the ability to adapt to his surroundings.
"I'd say just the idea of getting to know the kids really well," Denmark said. "Getting to know what works with the set of kids that you have. I tell people all the time that there are two ways to coach. You either have your style and make the kids fit your style, or you can adjust your style to fit your players. I've definitely learned that I'm the type of coach that wants to do the latter. I'm going to get to know my kids and get to know what they do well and find a style that will be fitting for them."
With the knowledge gained from his six years at Heritage, Denmark said there are plenty of things he plans to use to his advantage heading into his new job at Stockbridge.
"The first thing that I know that I can take into it is patience," Denmark said. "Just knowing that it's not an overnight process. I've had the opportunity to meet a lot of my returning players and it's a young group. I know that it's going to take some time for them to understand and learn what I want to get out of them and to get them to the point where they know exactly what it takes to have the success like we had at Heritage."
The good thing about it is that it's not a program that was in shambles. They've had a lot of success at Stockbridge and it's kind of just picking them up and putting the pieces in the right place."
Denmark's decision to choose Stockbridge as his next coaching stop was a mix of location and talent in the area.
"Stockbridge is definitely an area that has a lot of talent," Denmark said. "That area and Henry County with so many schools there, there's a lot of people moving into the area. Stockbridge itself has a good track record of having good athletes in various sports. So that was a appealing."
The proximity was appealing, too. It allows me to find somewhere to move onto where I don't have to pack up and move myself and my family. Once I interviewed with them, it really felt like it was a good fit for me."