Eddie James knows he will receive a lot of criticism from this decision. But James said he's a man and will learn from it.
James accepted the Highlands Bluebirds football over the weekend, attended a press conference at the Highlands Field House on Sunday with Principal Matt Bertasso and Director of Athletics Wes Caldwell in attendance, contacted returning players, then reversed course and decided to return to Franklin County on Tuesday.
The Highlands faithful, including players that intend to suit up for the Bluebirds in 2021, turned out to show their support on Sunday, lining the street down to the Fieldhouse and shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries with the man they thought would be their coach.
"I would be remiss if I didn't say thank you to Matt and Wes. They handled every bit of the process professionally and even at the end, when things changed for me, they were nothing but great to me," James said. "I don't wish any ill will toward anybody up there. It is very evident that is a special place for football. That was amazing to see that."
James, 2005 Franklin County alum, has been the head coach at Franklin County the past four years guiding the Flyers to a 35-12 record including their first appearance in a state championship game. Franklin County lost 31-28 to Boyle County in overtime at Kroger Field in Lexington on Dec. 18.
James and his wife Nikki have two kids in daughter Ava (6 years old) and son Jax (3). James is employed as a PASS (Positive Approach to Student Success) coach at Franklin County and Nikki James is a special education teacher in the district.
"At the end of the day, it came back to me, my family and the things that I want to leave behind in terms of my legacy and it ultimately is here with my kids in Franklin County," Coach James told FTM.
"Maybe I should have taken more time. I don't know the right answer. Hindsight is 20/20. But I don't feel like I ever misled Wes or Matt. I was fully onboard. Sometimes your heart speaks to you differently and that's what happened."
James has told multiple people he wants to lead the Flyers back to the state championship game and bring home that first trophy to Franklin County.
"I believe in building stuff. Here, it has been from the ground up," Coach James said. "I think there's an an added aspect that makes this place special for me. I relate to these kids here, not that I wouldn't at Fort Thomas. The young men that I talked to were nothing short of amazing. They were very respectful, very polite - everything that parents would want in their children. But at the end of the day, there are kids here that I just felt like I was drawn to. I had some conversations with some people that I trust here. I really in my heart think sometimes we feel we're supposed to be places. We're supposed to get the next job. We're supposed to look for the promotion. We're supposed to do all these things. But when you're called to do something, then that's a powerful thing that's bigger than me or you. I think that my work here is a calling. It's not something that I feel I get up and go to a job every day. I get to impact these young men. It's something I feel called to do. I don't want to walk out on that."
Highlands has gone 38-34 since winning its last of 23 state championships in 2014.
"We are very disappointed in Coach James' decision, but we are moving on," Bertasso said. "We want somebody who wants to be at Highlands and build on our pedigree of excellence here, and our search for the next football coach will begin immediately. We will find the right person to restore our championship tradition."
The new head coach will see a number of players with varsity experience return next season. That includes sophomore quarterback Charlie Noon.
"I hope they know I don't harbor any ill will and I wish them the very best," Coach James said. "It is very clear that place is very special and it is going to be an amazing thing for somebody. I hate that it wasn't for me. But I would rather figure that out now and give them the best opportunity to do right by the kids in Fort Thomas than to get into a situation where no one was happy."
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