St. James tabs proven winner as head football coach
The longest-tenured varsity football coach in Horry County resigned last month.
Now one of the shortest-tenured ones has done the same.
St. James' Joey Price announced his impending departure on Wednesday after one season. The long-time football coach with five state championships in North Carolina and more than 240 career wins will change his full-time focus to Oak Dale Baptist Church in Loris, where he has been serving as the interim pastor in recent months.
“I feel like I’ve been called to do something different in my life,” Price said Wednesday. “It’s something I’ve always struggled with. God presents opportunities and asks you to walk through the door sometimes. That’s what I felt like I had to do, my wife and I. … It was a struggle for me. I still love football, and I love being a football coach. But I can’t put the time in to do them both. Even though I thought I could, it didn’t work out that way.”
Discussions with another pastor inspired Price to explore the church, and it ultimately led to his current role at Oak Dale.
Price toyed with the idea of doing both this spring before electing to walk away from his job at St. James.
It leaves the school looking for it’s fifth coach in 14 years. Principal Vann Pennell said he will post the position through Horry County Schools and conduct its fourth search since 2011.
“I completely understand and I wish him nothing but the best," Pennell said. "We knew we had the right guy when we hired him. He’s done a tremendous job for us. The work he’s done in the weight room as far as confidence and building strength and speed, the kids really respect him.
"We could all sit here and wallow in our misery and pity. But you have to buckle up and move forward.”
In this case, moving forward means defensive coordinator Tommy Norwood will serve as the interim coach. Norwood, 62, previously served as the head coach at Ragsdale, N.C., for 19 seasons and 12 years at Southeast Guilford prior to that. He was 222-138 between the two jobs.
Pennell said he was not immediately clear if Norwood would be the permanent choice. Whomever eventually gets the position will be charged with leading a program that has consistently struggled in terms of wins and losses. The Sharks are 38-96 all time, and the school has earned just three postseasons berths and one winning season — a 7-5 mark in 2015.
St. James also will be making the jump to the state’s largest classification in the fall based on its booming enrollment. Previously, the school successfully received a waiver from the South Carolina High School League to remain down a class for the current realignment window.
Despite all that, Price has high hopes for what his now former squad will do in the near future.
“I think these kids are ready to play football in this conference that they’re going into, with the schedule they have, the coaching changes that have happened in this league and this area,” he said. “These kids can go forward now. I think people are going to be shocked with how well they will do. They have more confidence now. They’re walking with a little bit of swagger.”
One of those coaching changes affected two of the teams on the Sharks’ upcoming schedule. Aynor’s Jody Jenerette resigned in March after 13 seasons with the Blue Jackets, ending his tenure as Horry County’s most experienced coach. Earlier this month, he was named the head coach at West Florence.
St. James’ own turnover has been well-documented. Price was the school’s fourth head coach and third in a four-year window. After Billy Hurston’s seven-year run to launch the program, Mark Fischer lasted three years before returning to Virginia. Robby Brown — originally the interim coach in 2014 — also resigned after three years.
From there, it was on to Price, who accepted the job after going 238-42 at a pair of North Carolina schools. In his preceding eight years, at Wallace-Rose Hill, he won five state championships.
Just 14 months after he was approved by Horry County Schools, though, he is leaving.
“[The turnover] concerns me because of the kids,” Pennell said. “They deserve the best we can find. All those people where great coaches and great people. Would I have loved for them to be here five, six years? Absolutely. We have to make decisions that are best for our entire school. I don’t blame Joey one bit. I don’t think anybody came here to stay a year or two. They came here to give us all they got and help this program.”
Price’s announcement came two days after his son, Jarrett, was named the head coach at North Carolina’s Whiteville High School. Jarrett Price served as St. James’ assistant head coach and offensive coordinator last fall.
Joey Price left open the option of returning to a sideline as an assistant in the future — maybe even at Whiteville. Regardless, he’s not second-guessing his decision.
“I love football. I love the kids,” Price said. “My whole coaching career, I’ve never been ashamed of my faith on the football field. Some coaches say you can’t do that. But you can. I think that’s what our kids appreciate. It means more to them than just football. I’ve never hid from that.”