By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
HOUSTON – Keith Jernigan, who built Houston High School’s girls softball program into a state contender, has resigned as coach.
Jernigan’s Lady Hilltoppers won the MHSAA Class 4A fastpitch state championship in 2012 and played in the 4A championship series this season, losing to Newton County.
“It’s a time-consuming job and I didn’t know but one gear to help us reach the point we reached,” said Jernigan, who coached the fast-pitch and slow-pitch programs for 10 seasons. “There was no one reason. It was just time to go. I’m leaving the program in good shape.”
Jeffrey Mann, who was Jernigan’s assistant this season, will replace him as head coach.
“I’m really excited about taking over the program,” Mann told the Chickasaw Journal. “Keith’s done a great job putting us on the map. He’s taught me a lot about the game that will help me as coach.”
Jernigan, 51, will continue to teach physical education in the Houston schools and will coach junior high basketball next season. He started his coaching career in basketball and was an assistant with former boys basketball coach Bruce Franks.
Houston defeated power Newton County to win the state championship two years ago. The Lady Hilltoppers finished the season 34-2 and posted a 20-game win streak.
Jernigan, who spent the early part of his life in the grocery business, was named the Daily Journal’s 2012 Coach of the Year.
His teams were known for their aggressive style in the circle, at the plate, on the field and on the base paths.
“It’s pretty much the way I’ve always been,” he said when asked about his coaching style and passion for the game in a 2012 interview. “When I step on the field, I’m ready to win.”
Jernigan says he’ll become a Lady Hilltoppers fan.
“I’ll enjoy getting to watch the games,” he said. “I’ll miss the players, but this will give me more time to spend with my family.”