STEVENSON, Ala. - After having just four head coaches in the program's first 25 years of existence, North Jackson High School has hired its fourth football coach in the last year. This time, however, it's a familiar name to the community and a man who is expected to return not only stability but success to the Chiefs.
Mark Rose, who coached the Chiefs from 2000 to '08, has agreed to return, pending Jackson County School Board approval during its Jan. 23 meeting. Rose coached at Class 6A Smiths Station in Phenix City, Ala., the past six seasons.
"The bottom line is there's nothing like North Jackson football," Rose said. "It's always felt like home to me, and I'm coming back for one reason and that's to win the state championship. We got close a few times when I was there before, and I want to go back and finish the job."
Rose directed the Chiefs to four 10-0 regular seasons and an 85-15 overall record. He was 54-2 against region opponents with seven region championships and went 7-1 against county rival Scottsboro. North Jackson was 4A state runner-up in 2002 and reached the semifinals in 2001 and had at least one NCAA FBS signee in each of his last five years there.
Smiths Station had just one playoff appearance in the 11 years before Rose took over, and last year he guided that team to the Class 6A quarterfinals, the deepest playoff push in program history.
North Jackson had more than 100 coaches apply for the job.
"There's no gamble with hiring Mark Rose," principal Sam Houston said. "We know what we're getting, so we don't have to worry about whether he's the right guy or if he can do the job. He's proven to be a winner everywhere he's coached. He won at a 6A program that had never won before, and now he's back here and we're tickled because we know he's going to lead us back to great things."
Rose's hiring is expected to put an end to a tumultuous year for a proud program. Shawn Peek, who had worked as defensive coordinator under Rose, had continued the team's high standards for five seasons, compiling a 50-13 record. But after he and four assistants were let go one year ago, it set off a downward spiral that included his replacement, David McKinney, abruptly leaving just two months after taking the job for what he termed "family reasons" just days before spring practice was to begin.
The school was then forced to piece together a staff of volunteer coaches, including Houston and several former players, to conduct spring practice. Faced with searching for a coach after school had been dismissed for the summer, Houston scrambled to conduct interviews and eventually settled on Tony Johnson in mid-June.
But with only six seniors, and starting seven offensive and eight defensive players who were freshmen or sophomores, the Chiefs were outscored an average of 34-12 in finishing with a program-worst 2-8 record and missed the playoffs for only the second time in program history.
Johnson was fired at the end of the season, which was also one of only three in the last 13 that ended without a region championship.
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.