Kelley resigns as Lions' head football coach

Searcy Lions head football coach Mark Kelley has resigned after the school’s 6A state championship season and is joining the Conway Wampus Cats’ coaching staff, according to the Searcy School District.

Searcy High School head football coach Mark Kelley has chosen to leave the school after leading the Lions to their first state championship since 1933, saying in his resignation letter that he had “accepted a teaching/coaching position with Conway Public Schools.”

In his resignation letter, dated May 28, which was requested by The Daily Citizen, Kelley wrote that the Conway School District “has given me a letter of intent to hire, therefore I am resigning my teaching/coaching position with Searcy School’s effective at the end of my 2019/2020 contract.”

The Searcy School District posted on Facebook late Thursday afternoon that it had “received notice of resignation from” Kelley and that he would be joining the Conway Wampus Cats’ coaching staff for the 2020 season.

“We are grateful for his dedication, winning spirit and the rapport he developed with his student-athletes,” the Facebook post read. “While we are disappointed to hear of his decision to leave Searcy School District, we want the best for Coach Kelley and wish him success as he continues his career in Arkansas high school football.”

Conway head football coach Keith Fimple could not be reached for comment, but Searcy Athletic Director Butch Schucker said, “Conway is giving him an opportunity to be the [offensive] coordinator and hopefully work into the head coaching position down there.”

“Coach Kelley has done a great job for us here,” Schucker said. “He’s won the last four years since I have been here. Coach Kelley has some quarterbacks that have some unbelievable passing yardage.”

Kelley was 44-17 in five years as the Lions’ head coach, making the state playoffs each year. His team wrapped up a 13-1 season in 2019 by beating Benton 28-27 at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock on Dec. 7 for its first football state title in the modern playoff era that began in the late 1960s.

“It’s just so surreal,” Kelley said after the title game. “It’s going to take a few days for all this to sink in but it feels really good right now. Our guys fought extremely hard. There were a lot of ups and downs. They made just enough plays and overcame some coaching mistakes. They just found a way.”

Danny Bennett, whose son, Ckyler Tengler, was the backup quarterback on the championship team as a junior last year, said of Kelley’s leaving, “I hate it. He had a real special relationship with Ckyler. We’re going to miss him.”

“He’s an offensive-minded genius. His offense is good and always has been. Because of that special relationship that him and Ckyler had developed and him working with Ckyler, I just really hated to see him leave,” Bennett said. “I understand anytime someone can better themselves, and I’m sure that’s what he believes, you always want to wish them luck. He called Ckyler yesterday (Thursday) and told him. He was awesome.”

L.V. Wilson, a member of the Lion Backers booster club, said, “I’m sad that he is leaving, of course. He did a tremendous job.”

“I have to question a little bit why he would leave to take an assistant position, even though it’s an offensive coordinator job at a larger school,” Wilson said. “It seems a little bit strange to be honest. Also, the timing of it is difficult because the way contracts are for school districts. They run from June 1 through May 31st so that is kind of putting Searcy in a real tough position to find another coach because most of them have already signed their contracts.

“I know Coach Kelley. I think he’s a nice man. I hate that he’s leaving. You’re coach of the year and 6A state champion’ to leave to take an assistants job ... it’s a little bit odd just to honest, a little bit odd.”

Searcy’s title year wasn’t without some controversy as members of the team caused damage inside the home locker room during the championship game that amounted to $234.70, including $82.13 for damage to a water fountain, $52.57 for damaged ceiling tiles and $100 for damage to a folding table.

The Marion School District also filed a police report in late December stating 11 football helmets were discovered missing after Searcy’s road game Oct. 11. In January, five of those helmets were recovered in a parking lot in Searcy.

Searcy School District School/Community Coordinator Betsy Bailey said Friday that the head coach opening will be posted but that process has not begun yet.

Schucker said hopefully the district will get some good candidates for the job.

“In Searcy, we have some very good athletes. We have some good junior high teams and some good talent coming up,” he said. “Whoever gets this job, if they could do well this coming year, we have some athletes coming up, so it’s really exciting.

“Somebody is going to be very fortunate to get some good athletes, and they know how to win. Since I have been here, finishing up my fourth year going into my fifth year, Kelley has been here, so we’ve never hired a football coach, so I am hoping, I’m praying, for some good applicants.”

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