It turns out retirement didn't suit Clifford Kirk all that much.
Just four months after stepping down as Soddy-Daisy's softball coach, Kirk has agreed to return to the field, where he will try to build the program at tiny Sale Creek.
"I thought about it and asked myself if I'm really that crazy, do I really want to start over?" Kirk said. "There wasn't just one thing that brought me back. I've been doing this for close to 40 years, and it's hard to get away from.
"I know it will be a totally different situation than what I left at Soddy-Daisy, but there are a lot of good people at Sale Creek and I've known and liked [principal] Tobin Davidson for a long time, so I'd like to see what we can do."
Davidson said he approached Kirk in the summer about the possibility of coming out of retirement, after bumping into him at a local restaurant.
"I mentioned to him that if he wanted to keep coaching, we'd love to have him," Davidson said. "I saw a twinkle in his eye that day and thought we might have a chance. When Clifford called me over the weekend and said he would take it, you can imagine there was a lot of excitement.
"He's the best there is in softball, so this is a dream come true for our school. It gives Sale Creek instant credibility."
Kirk will work as a non-faculty coach, and the Lady Panthers will have former Sequatchie County player Kendra Mooneyham as co-coach. Kirk does have experience at the small-school level, having begun his high school coaching career as an assistant at Lookout Valley for two years.
Kirk never had a losing record, and his overall record is 912-196. He built Soddy-Daisy into the state's premier program in 26 years as coach, winning eight Class AAA state championships and finishing runner-up three times. He previously won two state titles as coach at Hixson.
He ended his legendary career in May by guiding the Lady Trojans to the state title, and the team finished the season ranked No. 11 nationally in the ESPN Powerade poll.
Conversely, Class A Sale Creek finished last season with just 10 players on the varsity team.
"It's definitely a challenge when you go to a situation like this," Kirk said. "That program has gone down, and it's low right now. We've got a lot of building to do.
"You don't have the athletes in Class A, or at least as many, as we did in triple-A, so that makes the building more of a challenge. The girls will determine a lot of the success we have. I'll see where we are talent-wise and how motivated they are. It won't be any different than in the past for me. It's still coaching kids."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...