It's been an offseason unlike any other for two of the area's top high school football programs. South Pittsburg and North Jackson, located about 10 miles from one another, are perennial state championship contenders in their respective states, each averaging 11 wins per season in the last decade.
But both currently are without head coaches after the men they recently hired abruptly left without coaching a single game.
Citing "family reasons," David McKinney resigned from North Jackson on Monday, just two months after being named the Chiefs' coach and one week before spring practice was to begin. While the Chiefs are just beginning their search to find a new coach, South Pittsburg athletic director Vic Grider said his program is winding down its search for his football successor.
"We should have it wrapped up by next week for sure," Grider said. "We had more than 100 apply this time and will be finished with interviews by the end of this week. We will have interviewed three finalists, and the next step is for our committee to meet and discuss who we will recommend."
Grider added that spring practice will begin May 6 for the Pirates and their new coach.
McKinney's departure caught the North Jackson administration completely by surprise Monday afternoon. A former all-state quarterback at Stevenson (Ala.) High School, which merged with Bridgeport to form North Jackson in 1988, McKinney had been a successful head coach at Class 3A Gordo (Ala.) the past six seasons before being given the Chiefs' job over 20 other applicants.
McKinney's father, Kenneth, was the head coach at Stevenson, guiding that program to Class 2A state titles in 1977 and '79 and a runner-up finish in 1981. In that '81 season, with David playing quarterback, the Panthers lost 3-0 in the final.
"He had officially started working full time with the team February 4 and driving back home on the weekends to be with his wife and two kids," North Jackson principal Sam Houston said. "He said his wife wasn't going to be able to transfer her job for a while, so he just felt like he had to stay closer to them.
"I'm stunned. We'll just have to pick up the pieces and start the search over again. The problem is everybody else is getting ready to start spring practice, so I don't know who will want to come in on such short notice. Obviously, we'll have to move the start of our spring practice back because right now we're down to just two assistants on staff."
The Chiefs were scheduled to begin spring practice next Monday and had a scrimmage scheduled at Marion County for May 17. Houston said it's now "up in the air" as to whether that scrimmage will be played.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...