Since posting the opening for the head football coaching position on the school’s and the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s Web sites, Jacksonville High School principal Mike Newell received some 91 letters of interest and resumes.
He got inquiries from scores of coaches among the high school ranks and others from the college level. He even had an applicant from Mexico City, Mexico, and another from Canada.
He wound up going with a guy from just down Alabama 21 when he introduced former Saks coach Clint Smith as the Golden Eagles’ new coach at the Jacksonville City Board of Education meeting Tuesday at the high school’s lecture room.
“Coach Smith had everything we were looking for,” Newell said. “He was one that’s proven in rebuilding a program and then having a consistency in winning. He was someone that was program oriented and the success of all sports. The fact that he was so close was just a plus for us.”
Smith, a Clay County alumnus, is leaving Saks after nine years as a Wildcat, including seven as head coach.
Prior to Smith taking over the helm in 2005, the Wildcats had failed to qualify for the state playoffs four-straight seasons. Smith guided them to the postseason in four of his final five seasons in red and white.
His finest moment came in the 2007 season. He led the Wildcats to an 8-2 regular season record and Class 4A, Region 6 title — their first since reaching the 5A state title game in 1996 — on their way to the second round of the playoffs.
After failing to reach the postseason in 2010, Saks went 7-4, finishing fourth in Class 3A, Region 6. The Wildcats advanced to the second round of the playoffs where they lost 14-13 to Rogers at home after a 2-point conversion attempt to win the game failed with 39 seconds to play.
“There always comes a time,” Smith said. “At the end of the year, this job came open and I just knew that it was the right thing to do. It was a move I knew me and my family would need to make. It’s a tremendous opportunity. Jacksonville’s a great community and a great school. We’re just looking forward to hitting the ground running.”
Smith inherits a Jacksonville team that went 2-8 last season amid a myriad of injuries under coach Roland Houston, who resigned two months ago.
Jacksonville went 18-43 under Houston, reaching the playoffs in 2009. The Golden Eagles have qualified for postseason play just three times since 1998.
“At Saks we had a vision of what we wanted to do,” Smith said. “The kids here (at Jacksonville) will buy into it. We’re going to work hard and as long as we do that, we’ll be successful.”
Smith said he plans to stay at Saks working half days before coming to Jacksonville in the afternoons until the Wildcats hire a replacement. Smith said he doesn’t know how many, if any, of his assistants will come along with him to Jacksonville.
Saks principal Jody Whaley said the job must be posted for at least two weeks or ten days before the position can be filled.
“We’re just going to try to find the best we can,” he said. “It’s exciting times. We’re looking forward to the challenge of finding someone to replace coach Smith. We’re happy for him and we’re proud of him.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.