Bryant says time just seemed right to make move

Havelock High football coach Jim Bob Bryant, who guided the Rams to three state championships in nine seasons, has announced his resignation.

He has decided to become the head football coach at Freedom High School in Morganton, located in Burke County in the foothills of the state east of Asheville.

“For where I’m at in my career, 20 years in the North Carolina school system, it’s the best decision for me and my family,” said Bryant, who compiled a 118-16 record at Havelock.

Bryant, who had gotten married last year, said his wife and stepchildren enjoy the mountains, and that his wife would likely be pursuing a master’s degree either from Appalachian State University or UNC-Asheville. He said the timing of the move just seemed right.

“It’s tough to leave Havelock,” he said. “I love the community, I love the kids, I love the coaches, and Dr. (Jeff) Murphy has been the best principal anybody could ever ask for, and he’s also a good friend. But through a lot of prayer and talking to my family and talking to buddies of mine, I just felt like if I was going to make a move that this was the best time to make a move.”

Bryant said that he was looking ahead toward retirement. In North Carolina, teacher retirement pay is based on the highest consecutive four years of salary. Craven County went through budget cuts last year and reduced coaching supplements across the board, thus reducing Bryant’s salary. He said taking the job at Freedom would help increase his retirement salary.

“I’m not going to talk bad about Craven County,” Bryant said when asked if the cuts played a role in his decision. “They’ve done a great job by giving me a chance to be the head football coach at Havelock High School. Our superintendent (Meghan Doyle) is going to do a great job.”

Bryant said he had agreed to take the job last week, but asked that both schools not announce the decision until he told his players in person on Tuesday.

“I love them, and I wanted them to hear it from me,” Bryant said, choking back tears. “It’s tough. It’s the toughest thing I’ve ever done.”

Bryant said more than the championships and successes on the field, he will cherish the relationships he had with players, students, administrators and his coaches at Havelock High.

“Those are the things that stick out the most,” said Bryant, who coached the Rams to seven Coastal 3A Conference championships.

Bryant started coaching the Rams in 2008 and won three state championships from 2011 to 2013. He has coached Havelock to appearances in the eastern regional championship game in seven of the last eight seasons.

Murphy, Havelock High’s principal, said the school would post the open position and begin taking applications. Murphy, who hired Bryant, said he appreciated the coach’s contributions and that he had an effect on a lot of students and student-athletes.

“He has had a positive influence on a lot of students,” Murphy said, citing Bryant’s weight-lifting programs in which other student-athletes participated and the enthusiasm the football team’s success created among students.

Bryant coached five seasons at Greene Central High School, compiling a 42-21 record before coming to Havelock High in 2008. In the previous three seasons, the Rams were just 7-26. In his first season, the Rams made the playoffs and went 8-4, and followed that in 2009 with a 13-2 season that ended with a loss to Eastern Alamance in the eastern regional championship game.

In 2010, the Rams again lost to Eastern Alamance in the regional finals before running off three straight state championships from 2011 to 2013, losing just once in those three seasons.

Havelock sought to become the first team in class 3A to win four straight championships in 2014, but lost to Crest in the state title game, ending the season with a 14-2 mark.

In 2015, the Rams went 12-1, losing in the second round of the state playoffs, but returned to the eastern championship game this past season, losing to Rocky Mount 34-33 in triple overtime and ending the year with a 13-2 mark.

“Sometimes, change is good and needed for everyone involved,” Bryant said.

Freedom High School in Morganton, a 3A school, has a strong football tradition, going 21-3-1 in the 2014 and 2015 seasons. This past season, the Patriots went 6-6, the year marred by a locker room fight after the Patriots lost to Patton 35-28 in the regular-season finale. Freedom lost to West Rowan 33-14 in the first round of the playoffs.

Freedom’s head coach, Brandon Allen, later announced his resignation. He had gone 27-9-1 in three seasons leading the Patriots.

“For whatever reason, I enjoy turning programs around,” said Bryant, who helped turn Havelock’s program into a state championship team after several losing seasons. “I know Freedom has a strong tradition of football. They went 6-6 last year, and that’s not a typical Freedom year.”

Bryant will finish out the fall semester at Havelock High, where his last day will be Jan. 26.

Matt Handley served as Havelock’s assistant head coach this year and handled media interviews for a time during the season when Bryant was turning down such requests. Bryant said whoever becomes Havelock’s next head coach, whether currently on staff or not, would be left in a good situation.

He credited the Havelock High administration, and his assistant coaches and players for all the success on the field.

“A head coach is only as good as his assistant coaches and his players,” Bryant said. “And, I have been really blessed over the past nine years to have really good assistant coaches and really good players.”

He also thanked all those who supported the program.

“I will never forget Havelock, and it will always hold a special place in my heart,” he said. “Thank you for all of the fond memories, and I wish Ram football nothing but the best in the future.”