By Steve Ruman
As a first-year coach, Brian Jones caught area football fans off-guard last fall when he guided Liberty to an 9-3 finish.
On Wednesday, Jones pulled another surprise out of his hat when he announced his resignation as the head coach of the Leopards.
Jones informed school officials of his decision, effective immediately. He steps down after leading Liberty to one of the area’s biggest single-season turnarounds in history. After entering the 2012 campaign having lost 18 straight, the Leopards went 8-2 in the regular season, winning an All-American Conference National Division title. They then defeated Streetsboro in an opening-round playoff game before falling to Norwayne.
“I made the decision [Tuesday],” Jones said. “It just came down to me wanting to place more focus on my career as an educator. I am going to pursue more education, and I hope that it opens up more opportunities in my chosen field.
“This wasn’t an easy decision. I love the kids, the school and the community. I hate walking away, but I had to look at what is best for my future.”
Jones played at Liberty under Jeff Whittaker, then began his coaching career at the school in 2006. He coached four years at Youngstown State before returning to his alma mater as an assistant in 2011. He took over the program at the age of 28 when Whittaker resigned following the 2011 season.
“People talk about our conference run, and our playoff appearance, but what I’ll remember most about last season is the bond that I created with the players,” Jones said. “I felt that I did a good job of bringing the group together as a unit.”
“Forget the accolades on the field. If I had an impact on the players’ lives, I did my job.”
Jones said that his decision to leave was made especially tough given the fact that Liberty will return roughly six lettermen on both offense and defense.
“You see the success we had, and how hard the guys are working in the off-season, and you can’t help but get excited,” Jones said.
Liberty will begin an immediate search for Jones’ replacement. The position has been posted within the district, and will open up to outside candidates in 10 days. Athletic director George Gulgas said he hopes for a quick transition.
“You always hope to find someone as soon as possible, but that’s especially the case when you’re into June,” Gulgas said. “We’ve put the word out.”
Gulgas believes that the Leopards’ veteran staff of assistants will benefit whoever fills the void.
“We have a handful of ex-head coaches on the staff, and a few other guys who have been here for a long time,” Gulgas said. “Whoever steps in, he won’t have to come in and teach these guys anything. Nothing he throws at them will be new.”
Jones noted that he “fully expects” to return to coaching in the future.
Liberty opens its season Aug. 26 when it travels to Salem.