Coffee Co. native named THS coach
Jason Welch will be returning to Coffee County, after being officially hired on Wednesday as the new boys basketball coach at Tullahoma High School.
“I’m extremely excited,” Welch said on Thursday. “It’s a fantastic opportunity with a great school system. I think the world of the faculty there. I’ve got a lot of friends who are a part of the faculty there and I think it’s a fantastic opportunity.”
Welch graduated from Coffee County Central High School in 1988, before heading to Motlow State Community College. In 1993, he graduated from MTSU with a Bachelor of Science degree.
“It’s crazy. I’m coming home,” Welch said. “I still have a couple of brothers who live in the area and have lots of uncles and aunts. I just never imagined that his would be a possibility. We have the opportunity now and we are going to try to make the most of it.”
Welch just completed his 26th season as a coach and his 15th year at helm of the Macon County High School boys program. After taking over in 2003 in Lafayette, Welch led the Macon County program to 269 wins, an average of 19 victories over the last 14 years.
“He’s a veteran coach with 15 years of experience,” said THS Athletic Director John Olive. “The second box that got crossed off in our search, was the fact that his teams are competitive. He was very competitive in his district and his region … He’s been there, he knows what it takes to build a program and to keep a program maintained.”
In 2017, Welch led the Tigers to one of the most successful seasons in school history, finishing the year with a 29-5 record. That season also saw Macon County make it to the TSSAA State Tournament for the first time in 31 years. The Tigers earned their spot at state after winning a sectional matchup at home against Chattanooga Tyner.
“That was a great year,” Welch said. My son [Cameron] was a sophomore on the team, so it made it a better year for us … The year started off with us going 9-0 … We only lost two games on the year when we had everybody there. If we didn’t have injuries, we were pretty much invincible.
“They were a bunch of hard-nosed kids who fought with nobody bigger than 6’4,” Welch said. “We really excelled. I don’t think anybody averaged more than 13 points per game. It was just a great, great team ... To win that sectional game at home and to cut the nets down at home, that was pretty cool.”
That 2017 season also led to Welch being selected as the District 8-AA Coach of the Year and the Basketball Coaches Association of Tennessee’s Class AA Coach of the Year. In his 15 years in Lafayette, Welch put a program that had 12 consecutive winning seasons, 12 region tournament berths, two district tournament championships as well as three regular-season titles.
Before taking over at Macon County, Welch was an assistant coach at Riverdale High School, helping lead the Warriors to a 24-6 record during the 2002-03 season. That year culminated with Riverdale winning its first regular-season championship in 15 seasons.
When he was hired in Lafayette in 2003, Macon County was coming off a season that saw the program win just one game. In his first season at helm of the Tigers, he led his team to 15 wins, followed by a region berth the following season.
While the ability to lead a winning team was one of the more important factors that Olive was looking for in his search for a new head coach, he also wanted somebody who would be invested in his students and the players’ lives. According to Olive, he found the perfect candidate in that aspect.
“Everybody who we talked to said that he was somebody who was invested in his students, both in the classroom and as members of the basketball team. To me, that was big,” Olive said.
Welch takes over the Tullahoma High School program following the February resignation of Zach Bailey. In four seasons at helm of the Wildcats, Bailey led his teams to an overall record of 33-80, including an 8-20 mark this past year.
Under Bailey, the Wildcats advanced to the Region 4-AAA Tournament once, in 2018, after Tullahoma finished fourth in the District 8-AAA Tournament. After entering the region tournament as the No. 4 seed, the Wildcats saw that campaign end with a 74-40 loss at Blackman.
Looking over the Wildcats program, Welch said he sees plenty of bright spots.
“I think there is really a possibility to compete at the district level almost right away,” said Welch. “There’s potential to be successful and to have a winning program. I grew up in Manchester and I’m a Coffee County guy. I always thought that Tullahoma would be a great job and a great opportunity. There are lots of resources, good athletes and good people. I just wanted to be a part of it.”
Having that local connection was also a strong factor when trying to determine who the next head coach would be for Tullahoma. THS Principal Kathy Rose said she valued Welch’s existing connection to the community.
“I’m very excited with the experience and the wealth of knowledge that Coach Welch brings to the table,” Rose said. “His diploma may say Coffee County, but he’s local and he knows us. Tullahoma is not an unknown to him, and to me, that’s important. He’s coming home and that has a nice ring to it and gives you a sense of stability.”
While Welch comes in with a wealth of basketball knowledge, the question still remains of how Tullahoma will perform on the court. According to the newly hired Wildcats coach, there are a number of things that he can already guarantee.
“There are three things that I can take care of. That’s how they look, how they act and how hard that they play,” Welch said. “Those are the things that we can control. We’d like to play as fast as we can, we would to press, get up and down the floor and be exciting and make it fun for the kids. Also, if you play up-tempo, you can play more people, so, you can keep more people interested.
“I just hope to come in and set it up where we can press on made baskets and free throws and get out and run,” Welch added. “If we’ve got shooters, we’ll take 3s and if not, we’ll take the ball to the basket and figure out a way for us to be successful on the daily basis.”
After being offered the job at Tullahoma, Welch said he and his wife, Angela, – who is also a teacher – prayed about the decision. With his son, Cameron, set to graduate this spring from Macon County, and his daughter, Abi, at UTC, Welch felt like it would a tremendous opportunity.
“We were just trying to find a good situation for us and new challenges,” Welch said. “We were here for 15 years and my son graduated this year and my daughter is at UTC already, so we are going to be having an empty nest. It was an opportunity where we can go and try and something else.”
Zach Birdsong can be reached by email at email@example.com.