When the Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School football team runs on to the field next season in Week Zero at Hilton Head Island, someone other than Blake Raley will be leading the Jaguars on the field.
Raley has resigned as head football coach of Jasper County's high school.
"I just felt it was the right time. Of course, there's never a right time team-wise. I have a great relationship with the players and students. I work with a great leader in (principal Karen) Parker," Raley said Monday. "At this point, there are things I want to pursue professionally, and at this moment, family-wise, the demands of being head football coach take away from being daddy. It's something (my wife and I) have prayed about and discussed for two months or so."
Raley actually resigned May 30 and informed his team of the decision on June 2.
"A week ago last Friday, he informed me that he was going to resign his teaching position as a P.E. teacher and all of his coaching positions," Jasper County athletics director Michael Jordan said. "I asked him at that time to reconsider. But he was set in his decision. The next Monday, I set it up so that he could speak to his coaches and players. He's earned that right and he deserved to tell them in his own way about his decision."
Jordan said his meeting with Raley was emotional. The two have known each other since facing off as opposing coaches four years ago when Raley was at Hardeeville and Jordan was at Denmark-Olar. Jordan confirmed that Raley's decision was a "family one," and he had no other details.
"I wish him and his family well," Jordan said. "I hope they continue to prosper."
Raley, who confirmed Jordan and Parker urged him to reconsider, has been a teacher and a coach in Jasper County since 2004.
He was at West Hardeeville from 2004 through 2007 when he was named head football coach at Hardeeville High School. He remained with the Hurricanes until the summer of 2012 when Hardeeville was merged with Jasper County's other high school, Ridgeland, to form Ridgeland-Hardeeville.
Raley coached the Jaguars for two seasons, leading them to an 11-12 record, two Class 2-A playoff berths and the school's first playoff victory, a 14-12 win over Lake City last season. He was also a physical education and health teacher.
"There are some seniors on the team that I have taught since they were in first grade, so that played a part in thinking it wasn't the right time. But at the same time, I didn't want to short them on time, effort and commitment on my end. They deserve more," Raley said. "But it's been a great 10-and-a-half years. I have memories that will last a lifetime. I am 34 years old so Jasper was home for nearly a third of my life."
Raley spent part of his time in Jasper County working for his friend and mentor James Gardner, the county's athletics director who died last September. Raley was one of three finalists to replace Gardner but ultimately lost out to Jordan.
Raley said Jordan's hiring played no part in his decision.
Jordan said the head coaching position has been posted on the district's website, as well as the S.C. High School League's jobs board. For now, he has named offensive coordinator Eddie Johnson the school's interim head coach. Johnson, he said, is "welcome to apply for the position permanently."
"I was caught off guard. I had no idea this was coming," Jordan said. "(Raley) and I had discussed some things for next year, so this was something that was totally unexpected on my part, but he has to do what he thinks is best for him and his family.
"My No. 1 concern right now is finding the right person for this job and continuing to move this district in a positive direction."