ERWIN — John English has taken a leave of absence from basketball, and will not be the Unicoi County boys' head coach this season.
English cited personal reasons for the decision, which will take effect immediately. He will be replaced on an interim basis by Michael Smith.
“This has been a difficult decision, but ultimately the right one,” said English in a prepared statement. “I feel it is in the best interests of the program and my family for me to step away from coaching at this time.
“I love and respect this program with all of my heart. I wish them the very best for the upcoming season.”
Smith, who has been an assistant under English throughout his 10-year tenure, will be in a dual role as head coach and athletic director for the 2012-13 school year.
“Coach Smith will be head coach for this season, and the hope is that Coach English could come back next year,” said Unicoi Director of Schools Denise Brown. “That is what he hopes to be able to do.
“Coach Smith will have a lot on him. He will still be AD and an assistant principal. But I told him he was the right one to take over as head basketball coach.”
Under English, the Blue Devils have played in eight straight district title games and won six of them. They are also one of only three teams in the state to reach the sectional round in each of the last six years.
The Blue Devils haven't been able to win a sectional game, coming very close against Stone Memorial at home in 2011, and losing on the road to Stone last season.
Unicoi won the District 1-AA title last year, but lost to Sullivan East in the Region 1-AA finals.
Smith said he takes over the program with a heavy heart.
“It's very difficult,” said Smith. “He has been my best friend for 24 years. As much as I wanted to be a head coach, this definitely isn't the way I wanted it to be.
“I will work hard to keep the tradition going. I will try to get them through this year, and see if he can come back next year. It has been a heck of a day.”