It took less than a day for one of the Chattanooga area's most successful builders of prep football programs to find his next project.
Jason Fitzgerald, who resigned from Meigs County on Thursday afternoon, was announced as the new head coach at Sale Creek on Friday morning.
He replaces Ron Cox, who stepped down earlier this week. Cox had been the only head coach in Sale Creek's nine-year history as a program, and he guided the Panthers to the TSSAA playoffs the past five seasons.
"It's an exciting time to be at Sale Creek," said LeAnn Welch, the school's principal. "When Coach Cox stepped down, we wanted to find the very best candidate possible to take over the program, and someone who would respect what Coach Cox had built. Our community has worked so hard to build it to where it is, and now, most importantly, Jason will take it to a whole new level.
"Jason shares a lot of similar beliefs as Coach Cox in that coaching is more than just about football. He will continue to develop the young men on the team. We're excited about the future of our program."
Fitzgerald was 89-23 at Meigs from 2014 to 2022, including six consecutive 10-win seasons. The Tigers won 30 straight regular-season games at one point, and in only his second season he led the program to its first winning record in eight years and first playoff appearance in four seasons.
His final six Tigers teams were a combined 80-12 with two Class 2A state runner-up finishes (2019, 2020).
Although Sale Creek has reached the playoffs every season since 2018, the Panthers have yet to finish with a winning record.
"It's a great opportunity to take a program that is hungry to take the next step and be a championship program," Fitzgerald said. "The pieces are in place for that to happen with an administration and community that has a lot of pride in their school and wants to be great, and the foundation that Coach Cox laid over the past nine seasons.
"Building or rebuilding is just the niche I've found in coaching, and it's exciting to take a program that hasn't had much success in the past and try to build it into one that consistently contends every year. The difference between this job and when I took over at Meigs is that Meigs had struggled for several years, but Sale Creek is a young program with a solid foundation for success. We'll just come in and try to build on that and get it to the point that it's winning playoff games and competing for championships."
Prior to taking over at Meigs, Fitzgerald coached at Hixson in 2012-13 and took that program to its first back-to-back seasons of seven-plus wins since 1963. The Wildcats had just one playoff win previously in program history but reached the quarterfinals in 2013.
Fitzgerald's 16 wins at Hixson are also the best two-year total in school history and included the team's first win over Tyner in 21 years and first win over Red Bank in 18 years. He also had two stints as head coach at Rhea County (1999-2003, 2006-2010), where his teams won 66 games and two region titles and reached the quarterfinals in three of their seven playoff appearances.
Fitzgerald is 171-79 overall in 21 years as a head coach, with eight region championships, and has been named region coach of the year nine times. His teams have reached the playoffs in 17 of his 21 seasons, with five quarterfinals, one semifinal and two appearances in state championship games.
He has also coached six players who became Mr. Football finalists, including Aaron Swafford, who won the award in 2018.
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.