Coach will remain at school as teacher BILLY Kirk’s five-year run at Jackson County — one of the longest in school history — ended Wednesday when he resigned as the Panther head coach.

He compiled a 12-37-1 record. Kirk, who will remain at the school as a teacher, said it was time to step away from coaching and contemplate his next step. He confirmed his decision Thursday.

“Being a head football coach is a job that requires a lot of time, energy and being away from your kids,” said Kirk, who has a wife and three children. “I’m going to take a step back and spend more time with my family and spend more time at home and take some time off and see kind of what direction I’m going to go in. I’m not sure about that right now.”

Kirk informed his players Thursday of his decision.

“You’ve got (emotions) all across the spectrum,” Kirk said. “But overall, it was positive. It was a positive meeting.”

At a school that’s struggled for football success since it began play in 1980, Kirk’s five-year tenure at Jackson County is tied with that of Jon Ward (1994-1998) and Don Golden (1989-1993) for the longest in the program’s history. His 12 wins rank third among Panther coaches.

Kirk’s Panthers played in three different classifications in his five years, with the program seeing modest gains in its win total.

Jackson County went 0-10 in 2007 in Kirk’s first year, playing Class AAAA football with a 38-player roster. Following a 1-8-1 campaign in 2008 in Class AAA, the Panthers improved to 4-6 in 2009 as members of Class AAA and then went 4-6 again in 2010 as members of Class AA. Jackson County finished 3-7 this past year (in Class AA), winning its season finale over Rabun County 42-7 in what turned out to be Kirk’s final game at Jackson County.

Kirk said the program is “100 times better” now than when he inherited it.

“That’s all you can ask for in a job, is leaving the place better than when you got it,” he said. “I know that I did that. I leave no regrets. I leave no ill feelings. This was my decision.”

Kirk pointed specifically to improvements in practice facilities (the Panthers didn’t have an on-campus practice field when he arrived), weight room upgrades, the growth in the touchdown club and the unity he’s seen within the football community. Jackson County has also seen an increase in participation. Kirk’s final team finished the year with 86 players.

“For a Class AA football program, I would challenge those numbers against anybody,” Kirk said. “I’m very, very proud of our coaching staff. I’m very, very proud of our kids.”

Kirk said he was also grateful to the men who brought him to Jackson County.

“I want to say a special thank you to (Jackson County Schools superintendent) Dr. Shannon Adams for giving me the opportunity the last five years,” Kirk said. “He’s been a friend and an ally. (And to) Dr. Todd McGhee (Jackson County’s former principal) for hiring me five years ago.”

Kirk also wanted to thank “all the Panther community” for its support.

“It’s overwhelming and humbling,” Kirk said.

As he ponders his next coaching move, Kirk said he’ll focus on his duties as a physical education teacher at Jackson County.

“I’ve been here for five years as a Distinguished Educator,” Kirk said. “I don’t see that changing because I’m not going to be the football coach anymore.”

Kirk said he wishes the program the best of luck.

“I think this program is at a completely different level,” Kirk said. “And I’m hoping whoever they bring in can take it to the next step.”

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