published Friday, November 8th, 2013

North Jackson High School fires first-year coach

Only four head coaches led North Jackson High School's football program for the first 25 years of its existence. But now the Stevenson, Ala., school is looking for its fourth head coach in the last year.

The school fired Tony Johnson on Thursday, less than six months after he was hired, following a 2-8 season -- the worst in program history.

"Once he got here, he just never seemed to be the right guy," principal Sam Houston said. "The pieces never seemed to fit between him and the program and the community. It was a bad situation for both parties coming in. Tony stepped up to the challenge, but it just didn't work out.

"Now we won't be rushed to find our next coach. We've got an opportunity to sit down and do a lot of research and find the right guy."

Following a 7-5 finish in 2012, Shawn Peek and four assistants were let go. Peek had been the head coach for five years, compiling a 50-13 overall record. The first man hired to succeed him, David McKinney, abruptly resigned less than two months after taking over, citing "family reasons."

The school was then forced to piece together a staff of volunteer coaches, including Houston and several former players, to conduct spring practice. Faced with searching for a coach after school had been dismissed for the summer, Houston scrambled to conduct interviews and eventually settled on the 42-year-old Johnson in mid-June.

Johnson had 19 years coaching experience in Alabama, including one season as a head coach at Dora High, and had played on a national championship team at the University of North Alabama.

But with only six seniors, and starting seven offensive and eight defensive players who were freshmen or sophomores, the Chiefs were outscored an average of 34-12 and missed the playoffs for only the second time in program history. They had won 10 region championships in the previous 13 seasons.

"I have no regrets in taking the job," Johnson said. "I knew I was going into a difficult situation, and I did the best job I could. I never felt overwhelmed by it, even though we knew there wasn't much time to put in our system. I just went in, hired a completely new staff and we started working.

"I believe I was doing things the right way, but I've learned no matter how hard you work, the toughest thing to overcome is negativity. All coaches will go through this and I'll find another job. I hate that the kids there are going through more change and my own daughter will be going to her third different school in the last three years. I guess that's part of coaching."

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293.

about Stephen Hargis...

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 ...

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