After building South Warren High School’s football program into a Class 3A player in three varsity seasons, coach Mark Nelson is taking a step back.
Nelson, who spent four years with the South Warren program from its inception and nine years at Greenwood before that, announced his resignation Tuesday shortly after informing the SWHS players.
“I’ve been coaching for 29 years, and I’ve started getting a feeling of not looking forward to the next season,” Nelson said. “These kids are working too hard for next year and deserve somebody who’s excited. There’s so many things that have gone into it. There’s family things – my parents, my kids, my wife. Coaching is a year-round thing. Not that I’m out of it completely, but the first reason here was to give these kids someone who’s excited about it.
“And I also started out as an assistant coach. I think I could be one of those sometime, but right now I don’t have the urge to do that. I want to be able to teach and go home after school, sit back and see where I’m at.”
Nelson left Greenwood in 2010 to take over the football program at newly opened South Warren. The Spartans played junior varsity for a season before opening their first varsity schedule in 2011.
South Warren went 4-7 and reached the playoffs in its first season but improved to 9-4 in 2012, advancing to the third round after knocking off perennial power Fort Campbell.
The Spartans continued their ascension in 2013 with an 11-2 mark, taking a heartbreaking 8-7 loss to Paducah Tilghman in the third round.
“You’ve got to start with the kids,” Nelson said. “When we first started practicing in 2010 at Buchanon Park because our fields weren’t ready, they were so small, and I don’t know if any of them could’ve played for a team anywhere in the county then. But they wanted to win. And then I have to go to our coaches. It was our staff instilling what hard work means and what it means to be a champion.
“The kids grabbed ahold and went with it, and I don’t see that changing.”
The Spartans’ next coach will likely guide the program through a transition in classes.
South Warren’s enrollment numbers suggest it will make a jump to Class 4A or 5A during the next realignment in 2015.
“They’ll be 3A next year and then jump to 4A or 5A, and that coach will have a year under his belt before they make that jump,” Nelson said. “That was an important thing.”
Nelson went 41-58 in nine seasons at Greenwood from 2001-09. In his final season, the Gators finished 10-4 and reached the Class 6A state semifinals.
Before that, he spent time on the staffs at Butler County, Portland (Tenn.) and Westmoreland (Tenn.).
South Warren’s search for a new coach will begin immediately, athletic director Chris Decker said.
“We knew he had been thinking about it for a while,” Decker said. “I think everybody in Warren County Public Schools owes him a debt of gratitude, because he’s coached with us for a long time. I think we’ll have a lot of good candidates, but we’re also not going to sit around. We’ll make some calls as well and go from there.”