Tuesday’s 68-44 loss at Columbia Central marked not only the close of the season for Tullahoma, but the end a chapter of Wildcats’ basketball, as head coach Zach Bailey informed his team that he would be stepping down from his position effective immediately.
“I just felt like it was time,” Bailey told The News on Thursday. “It was time for me to transition. I want to spend more time with my kids and see them grow up. It was a hard decision, and it wasn’t something that came in the spur of the moment. I thought about it for a little bit and just came to that conclusion.”
After serving as an assistant coach during the 2014-15 season, Bailey was hired in May 2015 as the Wildcats’ head coach. In his four seasons at the helm, Bailey led THS to a 33-80 record, including ending this year with an 8-20 mark.
Under Bailey, the Wildcats did advance to the Region 4-AAA Tournament once, in 2018, after Tullahoma finished fourth in the District 8-AAA Tournament. After entering that region tournament as the No. 4 seed, the Wildcats saw their season end with a 74-40 loss at Blackman.
After some contemplation with his family, and talking to his assistant coaches, Bailey knew that the end of this season would be the optimal time for him to step down. Rather than announce his decision to his team immediately, Bailey said he wanted to wait until the season was over to minimize the distractions. Following the season-ender on Tuesday, Bailey let his players know in the locker room at Columbia that he would be leaving his post.
“I told them all that I love them and I hugged each of them,” Bailey said. “I told them all that wins and losses don’t define who you are, it’s how you are as human beings and how you treat people and how you carry yourselves. It was very emotional.”
According to Bailey, the hardest part was saying goodbye to the five senior basketball players on this year’s Wildcats’ team. When Bailey started his first season as Tullahoma’s head coach, those senior players were all freshmen.
“I basically came in with those guys,” Bailey said. “I was very young myself when I got the position, and it was like we grew together, myself and those five seniors. I’m just grateful and honored for the opportunity to coach here at Tullahoma.
“I’m very grateful to [THS Principal] Kathy Rose, [former Tullahoma City Schools Director] Dan Lawson, [former THS Athletic Director] Coach [Jerry] Mathis for banking on me and Coach Lamont Snipes. If it wasn’t for Coach Snipes, I wouldn’t have even known about Tullahoma High School or the basketball program.”
According to current Tullahoma High School Athletic Director John Olive, he also was informed on Tuesday that Bailey would be stepping down as head coach. The next move for THS is to post a listing for the opening, but before that happens, Olive said the school needs to do a few things, namely figuring out what teaching positions will be available next school year.
“Right now, we are going through and seeing what teacher spots that we will have open or ones that we think that we will have open based on teachers notifying us that they are retiring or their family is moving or etc.,” Olive said. “Once we have a good handle on that, which won’t be much longer, then we will post the position and put a timeline out for when we are going to quit accepting applications.”
While he has not yet received any applications for the position, Olive did list some qualities that he’s looking for in a new head basketball coach.
“A coach who can teach in the classroom, whatever that subject is, and a coach who can obviously teach basketball and the skills required and the strategy of the game,” Olive said. “Then you also start looking at those factors where those possible candidates are able to create relationships with their players and their communities.
“There’s a lot that goes into coaching beyond being on the basketball court or even being in the classroom,” he added. “Those are things that you start trying to figure out. In a community like ours, I think it’s very important that the coach be very involved in the community itself.”
Looking back at his coaching career, Bailey said he’s going to miss the relationships that he’s built with his players. Not only that, he’s going to miss the relationships that he’s had with his assistant coaches.
“From the outside looking in, people don’t see how we interact with our players,” Bailey said. “People may think that we are stern on the court and that there is negativity, but off the court, we love these players to death. We told them that our job as coaches is to be honest with them and make them better human beings and better basketball players. I feel like me and my coaching staff have tried our best to do that.
“I’m very appreciative of my coaching staff. Coach [Jonathan] Woods does so much behind the scenes that people don’t see,” he added. “Coach [Craig] Brock, I mean he’s my guy … I feel like he’s an older brother to me. He always has my back. I always get good advice from those guys. If I’m ever struggling for a game plan, I can always talk to those guys and we’ll try to come up with a solution.”