Jason Fitzgerald has resigned as football coach at Rhea County. He plans to remain on the faculty.
The longtime coach and former Golden Eagles star gave two two primary reasons for his resignation.
"There are some things I've been trying to do the last two or three years to help this program. I've talked with the administration, and I just couldn't get them done," he said. "Secondly, I needed some change because of what has gone on in my life since February. I need something different in my life because of what my family and I have been through."
Fitzgerald and his wife, Cheryl, lost their son Jackson to a lengthy illness in February.
Fitzgerald was head coach from 1999 to 2003 and then took off two seasons to spend more time with his son. He returned to be head coach in 2006 and stayed with it through last fall. In those two tenures Rhea won two region championships and reached the state quarterfinals three times, falling to eventual state champion Maryville each time.
Fitzgerald has a record of 66-48 with eight playoff appearances.
He said he felt a different coach might be able to make some of the changes he feels are needed.
"I think the administration wasn't necessarily content, but they thought I was just always going to get it done and didn't understand the changes we needed to make," Fitzgerald said. "They were things that weren't for me but for the betterment of the program.
"We're competing in the highest classification and in a competitive district, and we need to do everything we can to be successful. I'm not sure they understood [the need for] the changes I wanted to make. I think those changes are needed for this program to be successful, and I honestly believe the best thing for me to do is step down."
Rhea County principal Jesse Messimer, another former Golden Eagles player, confirmed that he had received Fitzgerald's letter of resignation.
"Two hours after the fact, my reaction is that I hate to lose a coach," Messimer said when contacted. "I wish him well with the change, and hopefully he'll find what he wants. There is no negative from me to him, not the first bit. Jason has done a good job for us. He had good records and he put a lot of kids in college."
Fitzgerald went from Rhea County to Auburn and returned to the school in Evensville upon completion of his college career.
"Like I told the kids this afternoon, I love this program," Fitzgerald said. "I played here and have been here on the playing field or the sidelines for 22 of the last 26 years. I hope what I have done will help make this program successful."
Messimer said he would start advertising the football job today.
"We'll have to advertise the job for 10 days by law before we can do anything, but we will move as quickly as possible [to find a successor],' he said.
Contact Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-886-4765.