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Jackson County coach Kirk resigns
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Billy Kirk, who served as the head football coach at Jackson County Comprehensive High School for the past five seasons, stepped down from his position this week.

Kirk was 12-37-1 as the Panthers coach and ties Jon Ward and Don Golden for the longest tenure as the head coach at a school that has struggled in football since its inception in 1980.

Kirk will remain as a teacher at the school and will begin to evaluate his future in coaching, saying that he will keep an open mind to opportunities that may come available elsewhere but said that he is happy staying at Jackson County as a physical education teacher for now.

"It has been a grind these past five years trying to help build this program and I feel that it’s time for me to move on and focus on my family," said Kirk, who has a wife and two sons, the youngest of which was five when Kirk took over the Panthers program in 2007.

"I’m going to take the next six months to look at what other opportunities might be out there. I’m not sure if my next stop will be as a head coach, but I believe that when God closes one door another one opens."

New athletic director Jason Holcombe will be in charge of finding Kirk’s replacement. No candidates are known at this time.

A program that is 86-234-4 since it began in 1980, Jackson County made several note-worthy strides during Kirk’s tenure. Kirk pointed out that when he took the job, there was no practice field on campus – the team practiced two miles away at the Gordon Street Complex in Jefferson – and the football weight room was "not functional."

Not only does the program boast a large practice field and a much improved weight room and field house, but the numbers in player participation and in the touchdown club have increased dramatically during Kirk’s tenure.

"I can honestly say that this place is 100 times better now than it was the day I stepped foot here," Kirk said. "We (coaching staff and the previous administration) have worked our butts off to give this place a major face lift over the past five years."

In addition to struggles with adequate facilities, Kirk had to deal with a school split right before he took over at Jackson County – a task no coach wants to have to overcome.

The Panthers played in three different classifications under Kirk, after he took over the program in 2007 following a split of the school to form East Jackson Comprehensive after the 2006 season.

Kirk went 0-10 in his first year with the Panthers after playing a Class AAAA schedule with only 38 players on the roster. The 2011 edition of the Panthers featured an 85-man varsity roster, while the program also includes a junior varsity team, a middle school team and a growing youth program that currently has nearly 200 participants.

Kirk posted three wins or better for his last three seasons, including back-to-back four-win seasons in 2009-10. It is the best three-year run in program history. Jackson County was 3-7 in 2011.

"Saying that three and four win seasons is an accomplishment for this program is embarrassing, but if people realized how much hard work and effort that takes, they would understand better. It’s just mind-boggling," he said.

Kirk mentioned several times that the last five years wouldn’t had been possible without the support of Jackson County Schools superintendent Dr. Shannon Adams and Dr. Todd McGhee, the former principal at Jackson County. Kirk also thanks the school, faculty, players, assistant coaches and community for their support.

"When my family and I got here five years ago, we didn’t know anybody, and all of those people made us feel welcomed and a part of the Panther family, so I am deeply humbled and thankful for that," he said.

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