Jeff Steele saved his best for last in Oakwood.
Steele, who led the Johnson boys basketball team to a program-best 29-1 record last season, will be leaving the school at the end of this year to accept a head coaching position with another school district, according to a news release from Hall County Schools. Steele met with his players Tuesday to inform them of his decision, the release said.
Steele said he is doing what’s best for his family.
“I’ve been emotional all day. I give credit to the players,” Steele said. “The players have made this situation for me.”
He went from a 1-21 mark in his first year as head coach to the one-loss run that ended in the state quarterfinals in 2014-15. In between, he led the Knights to nine playoff appearances, four region championships — including the past three in 8-AAAA — and the 2014 and 2015 Lanierland titles.
Steele was 270-81 in 16 seasons as head coach with Johnson after one season as JV coach.
Steele said he is optimistic about the future.
“It’s somewhat exciting. It’s a little bit scary at the same time. Maybe this is what I need. Maybe I got too comfortable,” Steele said. “I’m looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead for sure. There are going to be some challenges, but I’m ready to take them head-on and see where the future leads me.”
Johnson athletic director Matt Stowers has worked with Steele for the past two school years. Stowers said Steele taught his players about basketball and life.
“He treats them like they’re his own kids,” Stowers said.
Steele also credited his final Johnson team for opening the door for assistant coach Zac Swansey to secure the West Hall boys head coaching job earlier this offseason.
Steele was The Times’ All-Area boys basketball coach of the year each of the past two years.
Steele experienced his most successful year during the 2014-15 season, in which the Knights had an undefeated regular season, won the Lanierland championship, won the Region 8-AAAA championship and advanced to the Class AAAA state quarterfinals.
He said each team taught him something along the way.
“I love the kids at Johnson,” Steele said. “And it’s going to be hard for me to get away from that place in my heart.”
Steele has also coached the boys golf team at Johnson for 15 seasons.
He said he thrived on being a players’ coach.
“I gave my players a lot of freedom, a lot of input to what we were doing,” Steele said. “We worked together. I just happened to be the head of the totem pole.”
Stowers said he hopes to have a new coach in place before the end of the school year so the coach can get in front of the community, plus be a part of running summer camps and team workouts. He said Steele “certainly made an impact” at Johnson.
“He will certainly be missed and he’ll miss the place,” Stowers said. “And I think he’s making the decision based on the right factors, and that’s him and his family.”