Jimmy Weekley wasn't expecting to return to the Chattanooga Red Wolves.
He certainly wasn't expecting to be filling the same role — interim head coach — that he did a year ago for the USL League One soccer team.
But sometimes life happens.
After stepping into the role in July 2022 during the suspension of Jimmy Obleda, who wound up never coaching for the Red Wolves again, Weekley ultimately guided fourth-seeded Chattanooga to its first appearance in the league title match in November to cap the club's fourth year of competition.
After the season, Weekley, a fomer prep soccer coach at Baylor and Chattanooga Christian, chose not to pursue the full-time gig, opting to go back to his prior role of director of soccer operations for the Red Wolves.
"I never even reached out to (general manager) Sean McDaniel or (team owner) Bob Martino about it. It never really crossed my mind; that wasn't something I was interested in pursuing," Weekley said.
Ziggy Korytoski's hire as head coach was announced in mid-December, and right before the preseason started this year, Weekley left for an opportunity in Florida. He returned in May and was asked to come back as an assistant.
A month later, with the Red Wolves off to a 3-7-2 start and near the bottom of the 12-team league standings, Korytoski was relieved of his duties. The club again named Weekley the interim coach.
Could lightning strike twice? After all, Weekley was 8-4-5 a year ago in the interim role. However, that was a team that he had been around, a team that was mostly the same under Obleda. That made for an easy transition to Weekley, who knew the players, their strengths and weaknesses, and how they could be fused together successfully.
This Chattanooga team started the year with 16 new players and has added more since then. The team Weekley left is now scattered around the higher-division USL Championship and other USL League One clubs, aside from a few familiar faces.
While last year's Red Wolves needed just a jolt — they were 6-8-2 at the time of Obleda's suspension — this team needed a lot more, and they have gone 1-3-2 since Weekley took over.
"This year, we've experimented with different lineups, different formations, and we're trying to find what works," Weekley said Thursday. "I feel like we've got better and better every game. We've scored in every game, but now we've just got to stop giving up goals. Hopefully we'll get there, but I feel like we're making progress. It's just kind of an uphill battle right now.
"If we want to make any push for the playoffs, we've got to go on a pretty good run here, and so our focus has just been, 'Who's the next opponent? What can we do? What can we control?' We can't control the other results, but we can try to have an impact on ours."
The adjustments are beginning to pay off. Last week, the Red Wolves picked up their first road victory of the season — after eight losses away from CHI Memorial Stadium in East Ridge — by defeating One Knoxville 3-2, but the 4-10-4 overall record and 16 points in 18 matches have Chattanooga in last place with 14 matches to go. The top six teams make the postseason, and the past two years that has included the Red Wolves, who reached the semifinals in 2021.
It would take nothing short of a miracle to even reach the playoffs this fall, but in parity-prone USL League One, perhaps nothing is impossible.
"We needed that win," Weekley said. "The guys felt like a burden had been lifted off their back. There was a sense of relief of, 'Hey, we can do this.' It energized them and gave them a little bit more pep in their step.
"It's the beginning of what's to come if we keep progressing this way."
The Red Wolves host second-place North Carolina FC (9-4-4) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the second and final scheduled meeting of the season between the two clubs. Chattanooga lost 3-0 at North Carolina on April 21.
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org.