For the seventh time in the past 11 years, Whitwell High School is looking for a new head football coach.
Billy Barnhart stunned the administration and community by abruptly resigning Friday afternoon after three seasons.
"I'm floored. I never saw this coming, so I'm just in shock," Whitwell principal Josh Holtcamp said. "He was building the program here to be a winner.
"But we will move forward and will get the best coach we can find with a firm academic background to lead our program. I am committed to the success of our program."
Holtcamp said assistant Jake Cabell will serve as the interim coach while the school conducts its search.
Barnhart never had been a head coach before taking the Whitwell job and went 1-9 in his first two seasons, but he led the Tigers to a 5-5 record this past season. They were unbeaten in the month October, with four wins by an average of 51-9.
Whitwell hasn't been to the state football playoffs since 2005 and hasn't had a winning season in 10 years.
"This was the toughest decision I've had to make in my career," said Barnhart, who was an assistant at Ridgeland from 2006 to '09. "I used the word 'anguished' when I spoke to the team about how I had wrestled with this decision for the last few weeks, because I really wasn't sure until just recently.
"I thought we turned a corner last season, but I believe it's in the best interest of the program and for me and my family that I step away and that they find someone who can generate more support from the community. I wanted to do it now to give the school time to find a replacement before spring practice, but I do believe I'm leaving the program in better shape than when I took over."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.