Tuesday, June 22, 2010

SPORTS>>Whatley departs Devils for Bulldogs

Leader sportswriter

Mark Whatley is stepping down as head football coach at Jacksonville High School.

Whatley announced this week he is leaving the Red Devils to sign on as offensive coordinator at Springdale High School under new head coach Shane Patrick.

Whatley’s departure adds to a list of coaching vacancies at Jacksonville, but he is the only boys coach in the group.

Whatley is leaving more than just a coaching job. Jacksonville High School is also Whatley’s alma mater, where he was a part of the Red Devils’ most recent state championship football team in 1981.

“The toughest thing is to leave your home town, and young people that you care about,” Whatley said. “There are a lot of kids I’m going to miss, but I had an opportunity to make a move to a place that’s special in athletics and special in academics. It’s tough to do, but sometimes you have to do what’s best for your family, and I feel like this is what’s best.”

Whatley, who took over for longtime Jacksonville coach Johnny Watson following the 2004 season, led the Red Devils to three state playoff appearances in 2005, 2006 — when they won a share of the 6A-East Conference championship — and 2008.

Whatley is 23-31 in five years at Jacksonville and 114-105-2 overall.

“He gave me the courtesy and respect to let me know what was going on,” Jacksonville athletic director Jerry Wilson said. “I respect him for that. It’s obviously a loss for us and a gain for them.”

At Springdale, Whatley will join Patrick, who was head coach at 6A-East member Mountain Home for seven years. Patrick, who led the Bombers to a state championship in 2006, got the job at Springdale in January after former coach Kevin Johnson stepped down because of health issues.

Whatley spoke with Patrick last week and met with the Springdale administration before accepting the offer.

Patrick and Whatley will attempt to return tradition to a Springdale program that was dominant in the first half of the decade.

The Bulldogs captured national attention in 2005 with quarterback Mitch Mustain and coach Gus Malzahn, now offensive coordinator at Auburn.

The Bulldogs mercy ruled every opponent that season and went 14-0 on their way to a AAAAA state championship.

But the Johnson regime was not as successful. In four seasons, Johnson coached Springdale to a 19-22 record with first-round playoff exits in 2008 and 2009.

With just over a month before football practice begins in August, Wilson said Jacksonville will have to move quickly to find Whatley’s replacement, but said it was good timing on Whatley’s part to announce his departure at the start of a two-week athletic dead period.

“He sort of helped me out and gave me the heads up,” Wilson said. “He was very up front about the whole process. He was real professional, and I appreciate that.

“I don’t want to say it will be a quick process with a 10-day posting period, but I will say it won’t be drawn out but won’t be overnight either.”

Once Whatley hands over an official letter of resignation, the Pulaski County Special School District will post the vacancy and give those interested 10 days to apply. Wilson said none of the current members of the football staff had so far expressed interest in being promoted, but also said he expected to hear from some of them.

“I’ve given Jacksonville everything I had,” Whatley said. “I tried to do what was best for the kids and the program. I tried to be fair with the way I dealt with the situation, and I hope they feel the same way.”