Hixson was looking for a fresh face and Jason Fitzgerald for a fresh start. The two got together Tuesday, Fitzgerald becoming the Wildcats' football coach.
The longtime Rhea County figure is returning to football after a season off following his resignation as the Golden Eagles' coach. His reasons were numerous and some of them personal, including the death of his son Jackson.
"With everything that went on with my family, including Jackson passing, it was time to take a break," he said. "Then the Hixson job came open. We had played Hixson before. I knew they had good facilities and had some good players in years past."
Hixson needed a coach after Houston White resigned, reportedly to take a position at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe.
"He's a proven leader and he'll bring new excitement to our program," Hixson athletic director Brian Bray said. "In a way, yeah, it helped that he'd been a head coach. He fit what we were looking for. Experience does go a long way, and we looked at what he had accomplished in the Chattanooga area."
Fitzgerald had two separate coaching stints at Rhea County and took the Golden Eagles to the state quarterfinals three times. They won two region championships. He leaves Rhea, his alma mater and the only school at which he has coached, with a 65-49 record.
Hixson had 85 applications for the job, and Bray and principal Lee Sims trimmed the list to five for interviews.
"We're excited about Jason and his family being part of the Hixson Wildcats community, and we're looking forward to him bringing new and exciting things to our football program," Bray said.
The new coach is expected to meet with faculty, staff and players on Thursday before attending a meeting with parents and possibly another with football booster club members.
After interviewing with Sims and Bray, Fitzgerald decided to take the job if it was offered.
"They want what's best for Hixson. They want it to be the best, whether it's academics or athletics," he said. "I felt there was a strong leadership team in place, and I was impressed with them and the plan they have for Hixson."
The coach has definitive plans for Hixson football, which he'll begin sharing Thursday.
"I want to get as many young men involved with football as we can," he said. "The door is open to anyone that wants to be there and to play. We're going to be good men and good football players, and it's a new day. Regardless of what's gone on in the past, everybody gets a fresh start.
Hixson hasn't had winning seasons since going a combined 12-9 in 2005 and '06.
"Houston did a good job. The facilities and the equipment are in top shape, and the football locker room and the coaches' offices are nicer than what I had at Rhea," Fitzgerald said. "We're going to work each day, whether it's offseason, spring practice, summer workouts or during the season, and we're going to learn to compete and win. That is something that intrigued me about Hixson. I want to put Hixson in a place to win. I want to have a successful program. We want championships."
Although he'll finish out the school year in the Rhea County system, Fitzgerald will be at Hixson at least two days each week and will coach spring practice before moving to the school full-time in June.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...