Scott Stidham knew the time had finally come to practice what he preached, even if it meant walking away from one of the two great loves in his life.
After 12 years as a teacher and coach at Lawrence High - the same school from which he graduated in 1989 - Stidham is leaving his hometown to accept a job as a physical education teacher and assistant football coach at Liberty High in Jackson, Tenn.
The move allows Stidham, wife Stacy and children Landry (9), Nolan (5) and Nash (2) to relocate near Stacy's family. The decision to coach just football - Stidham served the last two springs as Lawrence High's head track and field coach, leading the Lions to this year's Class 6A boys state title - will also allow more time to watch his own kids grow.
"Lawrence High is a special place," Stidham, 35, said Thursday. "I've always told our track kids and the football kids I've had the chance to coach to put your family before Lawrence High School.
"It's time for me to do so."
The ball started rolling on the decision earlier this month when Liberty High's principal - a friend of Stidham's father-in-law - called to see if Stidham might entertain the thought of returning to the state where he earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Tennessee-Martin.
"I wasn't searching. I've known the principal for a while," Stidham said. "I didn't even apply. He called and asked if I was interested. Everything just sort of fell into place. It's the right fit for us at the right time."
Liberty High's fall football camp opens on July 31, leaving Stidham little more than a month to sell his house and get his affairs in order before moving to the Volunteer State. Once there, he'll find a situation very similar to what he leaves behind at LHS, yet polar opposite in some areas as well.
Like Lawrence, Jackson - population 65,000 - is a mid-sized city nestled between two larger burgs (Memphis and Nashville) where successful high school athletics are an important part of the community. In fact, Liberty High won the Class 2A boys basketball state title last winter.
The biggest difference? Stidham leaves behind a school with more than 100 years of heritage for one that first opened it doors in the fall of 2003.
"I'll miss Lawrence High a lot, but I'm looking forward to what the future holds also," Stidham said.
Despite his strong ties to the Chesty Lions, the move didn't sneak up on those he worked so closely with in the LHS athletic department.
"With (Stacy's) family being in the area, it really didn't surprise me," said LHS athletic director Ron Commons. "When we sat down and talked about it, I told him, in my opinion, it was a no-brainer."
Stidham becomes the fourth coach to leave LHS following the 2005-06 school year. Commons is stepping down after a lengthy run as the boys golf coach, longtime tennis coach Dick Wedel is turning over both the boys and girls programs, and swimming and diving coach Ryan Adams is doing the same with both the boys and girls teams.
"We've had several inquiries," said Commons about the track job - a high-profile position given the Lions' boys state title and second-place finish by the girls last month in Wichita. "We'll try to get someone hired as quick as we possibly can."
Yet Commons knows finding someone who matches Stidham's passion for the Red and Black won't be easy.
"You can't ever replace him, just hope to find someone who's willing to step up to the plate," Commons said.
"Scott's a great individual. We're going to miss him dearly."