Helow Climbs Coaching Ladder
Jan. 6, 2014
By Austin Miller, OleMissSports.com
OXFORD, Miss. — From Ole Miss walk-on, to Florida State defensive graduate assistant, it’s been a long road in a relatively short time for George Helow. And when Florida State and Auburn play in the BCS Championship on Monday in Pasadena, Calif., Helow will seek his second straight national championship as a coach, having served as a defensive intern for Alabama last year.
“It has been another incredible experience that I can’t really explain,” Helow said. “From the day we got here, I can’t speak highly enough about (Florida State defensive coordinator) Jeremy Pruitt putting in this new defense. From where we were in the spring, to how we have gotten better and improved every week, it’s been awesome to see the improvement and progression. He has been such a good teacher and coach.”
“Right now, I’m doing everything I can to help our team get ready to play Auburn. At the same time, it is exciting knowing that I’m going to another national championship game. That’s been our expectation and goal for the whole season. Our goal was not to get there but to win it. It’s great that we’re going to Pasadena. We’re excited about the opportunity, but we want to finish.”
The Jacksonville, Fla., native redshirted at Ole Miss in 2006 and saw his first career action against Louisiana Tech in 2007, before playing all 38 games for the Rebels from 2008 to 2010, which included back-to-back Cotton Bowls in 2008 and 2009.
Helow, who played mostly on special teams, earned a scholarship before his senior season in 2010 and graduated in December 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing.
“As long as I can remember, I always had a passion for football,” Helow said. “Ole Miss gave me an opportunity to play on the big stage, and I’m very thankful for that experience. I went to Ole Miss as a preferred walk-on, and that’s where I established a good work ethic. As a walk-on, you always have to work hard and earn your stripes, and it’s the same way climbing the ladder in coaching.”
He participated in the Ole Miss pro day after his senior season, and while he waited for his shot at playing in the NFL, he continued working out and went back to his high school alma mater, Bishop Kenny, in Jacksonville, Fla., where he coached his younger brother Peter, a senior captain on the team who now plays at Marshall.
“I played for Mark Thorson in high school, and there’s not a better man or role model than him,” Helow said. “He’s one of the high school coaches who does it the right way. He knew I was in Jacksonville and asked me to come back and coach with him. At the same time, if one of the defensive backs for the Jacksonville Jaguars was to go down during camp, I was hoping to be their replacement guy, so I had to stay in shape. That never happened.”
After one season at Bishop Kenny, Helow applied for a position on Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama. Another former Ole Miss player, Jon Desler, put Helow in contact with former Ole Miss assistant coach Joe Pannunzio, who now serves as director of football operations at Alabama.
Helow went to Alabama and met with the coaching staff when they had their junior day in 2012, and they invited him to serve as an intern in the weight room that spring and summer and then serve as a defensive intern in the fall, where he worked with the Crimson Tide defensive staff.
From Alabama, Helow followed Pruitt to Florida State, the latter having spent the previous three seasons as the secondary coach at Alabama, before joining Jimbo Fisher’s staff. Helow also credited Fisher for the opportunity and the job he has done with coaching the Seminoles this season.
“It was a difficult decision to leave Alabama, but Jeremy Pruitt gave me an opportunity to come to Florida State as a graduate assistant and have coaching duties in the secondary and recruiting. If you want to be a college coach, you have to know how to recruit, and as a GA, you can recruit.”
As Helow looks ahead and continues to climb the coaching ladder, he also looks back on his playing career at Ole Miss. For him, it has been and will continue to be about the process, taking it one day at a time and controlling what he can control.
“Building on my experience playing at Ole Miss, I want to do my job the best I can and have fun doing it. I want to attack every day with the mindset of getting better and making everyone around me better. I want to share my enthusiasm, intensity and passion for the game and life with those around me.
“I have been blessed by the experiences I have had as a player and a coach. I want to continue to learn as much as I can and share that knowledge with those around me. The players we work with come from many different backgrounds. I want to help them become great football players and great men.”
Austin Miller is a writer and blogger for OleMissSports.com. He joined the staff in June 2013 after serving as sports editor of the Daily Mississippian. Follow him on Twitter @austinkmiller
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