SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. - Three months after helping guide South Pittsburg High School's football program to an unlikely sixth Class 1A state championship, Wes Stone has been officially named head coach at his alma mater.
Stone and Heath Grider served as co-head coaches last season when Chris Jones left to return to coach in the Canadian Football League after just one game. Grider, who is also the school's athletic director and assistant principal, will remain in those administrative roles but said he will not return to coaching next season.
This will be the first varsity football head coaching job for Stone, who was the team's offensive coordinator last season - his second stint in that role - and has also served as the Pirates defensive coordinator and special teams coordinator in previous seasons.
"Obviously it's an honor because there have been a lot of really good coaches before me so there are big shoes to fill," said Stone, who was also an assistant for two of South Pittsburg's state championship teams and four runner-up finishes in addition to last year's title. "I was able to play for the legendary Don Grider and Danny Wilson and then work for Vic Grider, Allen Pratt and Grant Reynolds and I want to thank all of them for helping mold me through my career and put me in position to be ready for this.
"I understand the tradition here and what the expectations are. It's my goal to continue to help our players succeed on the field, in the classroom and in life."
The coaching search was delayed for several weeks as school administrators awaited a decision from coaching legend Gary Rankin, who had approached them about possibly taking over the program. Once Rankin decided against taking the vacant South Pittsburg job and eventually took over at Boyd Buchanan instead, the process of narrowing the choices began in earnest.
Stone was selected over other applicants, including former Lake County state championship winning coach and current Shelbyville High head coach Josh Puckett.
"Wes is a lifelong Pirate who has earned this opportunity," said Heath Grider. "Having stability at the top has always been a key to our program's success and Wes certainly gives us that. He knows the kids, the program and the community expectations and all of those factors are huge parts of being successful here.
"With what he's done here in the past, not just last season or as a varsity assistant, but also with his success as our baseball coach and in our junior high programs, Wes has a proven track record of producing championship caliber teams."
A 1995 SPHS graduate, Stone began his coaching career at his alma mater in 2001, working as both a varsity assistant as well as the middle school head football coach, where he guided that program to four consecutive unbeaten seasons and a 36-game win streak at one point.
He left SPHS for a short stretch to work on Grant Reynolds' staff as Boyd Buchanan's defensive coordinator during the 2014 and 2015 seasons, helping the Buccaneers to consecutive region titles and earning region assistant of the year recognition as voted on by his coaching peers. He also joined Reynolds' Madison Academy staff in 2016, helping the Mustangs to an Alabama Class 4A state runner-up finish before returning to his alma mater the following season.
"This is not a job I take lightly," Stone said. "This is a destination job for me. This is my home and all of my family is here, so there's nowhere I'd rather be.
"This program, its traditions and values, is very important to me. We will continue to be hard-nosed, play fast and physical, just like we've always done."
Stone's family ties to the Pirates runs for nearly seven decades. His father played on the program's first state championship team in 1969 and Stone was a starting offensive lineman on the 1994 state title team. His brother played linebacker on the 1999 state championship squad and Stone's three older sons all played on teams that either won or played for a title.
Stone also guided the varsity baseball program to two state tournament appearances, including a final four finish in 2011 and he was named District Coach of the Year four times in his six seasons as head coach. Early in his career he coached the junior high basketball program to two appearances in the state tournament semifinals.
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis