SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — Just five months after calling it his dream job, Chris Jones has resigned as South Pittsburg High School's head football coach. Jones informed school administrators and the team on Monday morning that he has accepted the defensive coordinator's job for the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts and will begin that role immediately.
"A position came open in professional football and I was offered the job over the weekend," Jones said. "I haven't slept hardly since that offer came. It's a position that I felt like I couldn't turn down because it's what's best for my family.
"Telling the kids was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I feel like throwing up. I know people will say what they want about me because of the timing but the people who know me know how much I care about this program. There were just a lot of things that added up and led to this decision."
Four weeks into the prep football season South Pittsburg has played just one game, a season-opening 35-7 win at Sequatchie County on August 20. Since then the Pirates had to forfeit to Chattanooga Christian due to COVID-19 issues within the team and had their last two scheduled games canceled after all Marion County schools were closed due to the spike in the county's coronavirus cases.
The Pirates are scheduled to host county rival Whitwell Friday in a Region 3-1A matchup.
"We're extremely disappointed to have to go through a coaching change in the middle of our football season," said SPHS assistant principal and athletic director Heath Grider. "But we still have a good staff, we believe in our players and plan on competing every Friday night like we have for as long as we've had a program.
Grider added that he and long-time Pirates assistant coach Wesley Stone will work together in some capacity to run the program for the remainder of the season. Grider, the younger brother of legendary former Pirates coach Vic Grider, had worked as an assistant for 24 years but had stepped away from coaching prior to this season to focus on his administrative duties.
Stone has been on the Pirates staff for 17 years, including two years as offensive coordinator, helping the 2013 team reach the state championship game. He also previously worked as defensive coordinator for Boyd Buchanan for two years and as an assistant at Madison Academy for one season before rejoining his alma mater's staff in 2017.
"Our program has been successful in the past and we expect the community will rally around our student-athletes and coaching staff," said school principal Paige Hill.
Jones has spent 25 of his 29 years as a football coach at the professional or collegiate level but said when he was hired to take over the Pirates program on April 3 that he was coming to the prep level because, "this is my dream job. It's where I've always wanted to coach."
A 1985 SPHS graduate, Jones began his coaching career at the prep level before joining the Tennessee Tech staff and soon after spent time coaching on the staffs at Alabama and UT-Martin before moving to the professional level. He had a 17-year career in the CFL, where he helped four different franchises claim Grey Cup championships and appeared in seven total championship games.
He was the defensive coordinator for three CFL Grey Cup champions, then led the Edmonton Eskimos to another title as head coach and defensive coordinator in 2015. In his last season in the CFL, he served as head coach, defensive coordinator, vice president and general manager of the Saskatchewan Roughriders and was named the 2018 CFL Coach of the Year.
After that he spent two years as a defensive assistant on the Cleveland Browns staff.
On the day Jones was announced as the program's new coach, then SPHS principal Tim Bible said. "How can I, in my right mind, turn down someone who has deep ties to our community and has not only coached at the professional level but has been a general manager and ran professional franchises? Chris is someone who, because of his ties to the community, we felt confident would stay here for the long term, and that's very important."
Jones had been just the sixth head coach for the Pirates in the past 61 years, and that consistency helped them maintain their status as one of the state's premier small-school programs. South Pittsburg, which is currently ranked No. 3 in 1A, has reached at least the semifinals in 15 of the past 30 years, appearing in four state title games in the last decade.
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis