Haywood County Schools Superintendent cited “a change in leadership was necessary” and “our program needs to move in a different direction” as reasons former Tomcats head football coach Ernie Jackson was fired as coach on Tuesday in a statement released to the Sun Wednesday morning.
Russell declined to go any further into detail about the situation past her statement.
“After carefully evaluating the program it was determined that a change in leadership was necessary as we continue to invest in our student athletes and the future of our program,” the statement said.
The statement clarified Jackson is still an employ of Haywood County Schools while wishing him and his family the best and thanking him for his service to the program.
Jackson’s time of service to the program as its leader was about 19 months. He was promoted to the position from head coach at the middle school in June of 2013 after his predecessor, Slade Calhoun, abruptly left at the beginning of summer workouts. Jackson was named the new head coach less than two weeks later, and he had about two months – which included two weeks of TSSAA-mandated dead period with no contact between coaches and athletes – to prepare for the season opener against Booker T. Washington.
Jackson began trying to instill a family-oriented atmosphere within the program, and that worked as some athletes who’d left the program opted to come back for him after they’d played for him in junior high.
“Realizing that the program did not make the full 180 as the administration hoped, I know that lives were changed and students were impacted during my short tenure,” Jackson said in a statement he released Wednesday morning.
The on-the-field results over two years had their ups and downs. The 2013 season was a season of streaks as it began with two wins over BTW and Dyersburg (Haywood’s first win over former coach Bart Stowe), followed by three losses, followed by four wins and ending with two losses including the first playoff game for the once-dominant program in four years.
This past season didn’t go as well as the Tomcats missed the playoffs with a 4-6 record as Jackson’s tenure ends with an overall record of 10-11. The Tomcats did have a shot at the postseason if they’d beaten North Side in Jackson to finish second in District 15-AA, but they fell two points short. The season wasn’t made any easier when Jackson was suspended for the Dyersburg game in August while being investigated for “alleged unprofessional conduct.” He returned to the sidelines the following week at Liberty.
Jackson said he and his family will continue to support the program after the amount of time and effort he said he’s put into the lives of the student-athletes who make up the program right now.
“I can confidently say that nobody likes to be let go of their duties, but tonight my heart breaks for these players and the turnover that awaits them over the next few weeks and months,” Jackson said. “My family and I will continue to support Tomcat Football, but we will have to learn to do it in different ways.
“For many of these guys, I am a father figure to them and I will strive to continue the investments made despite my title. Coaching the Tomcats has always been family-focused, and I will miss bonding times made with these players, especially during our Thursday night team dinners.”
Russell said the school’s administration will begin an immediate search for its next coach, and Jackson said that coach will have plenty to work with.
“The 2015 season has a tremendous amount of potential, and I hope them all the success in the world!” Jackson said.
Jackson’s firing ensures Haywood’s program will have its fourth head coach since Bart Stowe resigned to take the Dyersburg job in 2009. Tim Seymour, Haywood’s current athletic director, and Slade Calhoun each coached for two seasons before Jackson coached his pair of years.
Russell was quick to point out in her statement the work Jackson did with the players that wouldn’t show up in box scores and coaching records.
“Coach Jackson has been a blessing to this team and to this community in many ways, both on and off the field,” Russell said. “It was a very difficult decision to make, but my hope is that Coach Jackson and his family will remain part of the HCS team.”
Russell was adamant, however, in her statement about the need for a change.
“Being a head football coach at the high school level is a very complex job, and we feel our program needs to move in a different direction,” Russell said.
Jackson said he and his family will rely on their faith to help them get through this time and understand the reason for it.
“In a situation like this it would be easy for me to tell you all of the inside dirt or to fight for my voice to be heard,” Jackson said. “But for now I claim Romans 8:31-32: ‘What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?'”
Brandon Shields, 425-9751