Stephenson leaves PCHS after one season

Published 10:48 pm Tuesday, January 5, 2010

After just one season at the helm of Pike County’s football program, head coach Eddie Stephenson is leaving to take the head coaching job at Alma Bryant High School in Irvington.

“I’m from the Mobile area, so I have lots of contacts down there who know who I am and what I’m doing, so when Alma Bryant let go of their coach, I got a call from their principal,” Stephenson said. “I’ve known him for a long time, so I figured the right thing to do would be to talk to him and see if there was any interest on both parts.”

For Stephenson, the decision to leave PCHS was motivated not by finances, but by family.

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“It was a tough decision on many levels, but the most important level is that I have kids in Mississippi and it was hard seeing them living in Troy,” Stephenson said. “In having to make this decision, I had to put my family first. We always told our guys to put family above football, so when the opportunity was raised to move closer to my family, I had to take a long look at it. It was a tough, heartfelt decision because the kids at Pike County really are great kids.”

Stephenson accepted his new job last week, and informed Pike County Schools Superintendent Mark Bazzell of his decision then. He met with his former players Tuesday to inform them of his departure.

“Anytime a coach is leaving a team that has good chemistry the response is not going to be a good one,” Stephenson said. “The guys were disappointed, and I was disappointed to have to stand in front of them and tell them that I’m not going to be their head football coach anymore. It’s not something I like to do. It was very tough to look them in the eye and tell them that.”

Part of the disappointment surrounding Stephenson’s departure undoubtedly stems from the positive outlook the community had for the program’s future. The Bulldogs went 9-1 and had a perfect regular season in Stephenson’s only season in Brundidge.

According to Bazzell, both Stephenson and previous head coach Brad Waggoner were key in improving the state of the PCHS athletic program.

“The good news is the program is in far better shape than it was two years ago,” Bazzell said. “We have a coaching staff down there that is working together and is all pulling in the same direction, which hasn’t always been the case there. Financially, Coach Waggoner and Coach Stephenson the last two years have really taken strides to get the financial house in order. And, of course, under Coach Stephenson, I feel like we really got our swagger back in terms of how we played on Friday nights.”

Stephenson, meanwhile, shifted the credit for Pike County’s resurgence to the administration and its support.

“What Dr. Bazzell has done to improve Pike County and to help make it competitive is very important,” Stephenson said. “I can’t thank him and Dr. Mike Hall enough for their support.”

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the coaching shakeup may not be finished just yet. Stephenson’s new role at Alma Bryant also includes duties as athletic director, just as it did at Pike County.

With several positions open at Alma Bryant, Stephenson could target current PCHS coaches for those positions.

“I can’t speak for those coaches, but I know I have spots available and I am going to pursue hiring them for those spots,” Stephenson said.

While Stephenson may plan on pursuing some of his assistants at Pike County, Bazzell said assistant coach Zeb Ellison will be the person leading Pike County’s program from now until the hiring of a new coach.

“Zeb Ellison will continue to be down there and he will be heading things up for right now,” Bazzell said. “I wouldn’t go so far as to call him the interim just yet, but Coach Ellison will be there to make sure that we continue to make progress. He’s going to be in charge for a while. Sometime with in the next week or two, we’ll start the process of finding a replacement on a permanent basis.”

Ellison will not be alone in guiding the PCHS program, however, as Stephenson will remain in Brundidge for at least a little while longer to help with the transition.

“We don’t have an exact date in January nailed down for when I take over at Alma Bryant, but it will be later this month,” Stephenson said. “I plan on assisting in this transition in any way I can. I have some loose ends I need to wrap up here. I plan on doing all I can to make this transition as smooth as possible. Any time you have a situation as volatile as this one, you want to try and make it easier for the kids.”

Despite Stephenson’s departure after just one season, he said his time at Pike County was one he will treasure.

“The overall experience really has been wonderful,” Stephenson said. “The community was great, the fan support was great and the faculty was great. All in all, I have no regrets about my time at Pike County, other than how short my stay was.”