Hanging up his cleats

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, May 21, 2014

0521 spt-Fussell talks

Straughn coach Joh Fussell (right) talks with Austin Worley and Tucker Lawless during an earlier game this season. Fussell is stepping down as the Tigers’ baseball coach because of family. | Andrew Garner/Star-News

Sitting in the hot South Alabama sun watching his daughter, Carolina, play softball at Elba’s Tune Up Tournament weeks after the baseball season wrapped, Straughn head baseball coach John Fussell decided it was time to hang up his cleats.

Fussell met with his baseball team Monday and broke the news on a decision, which he said was hard to make.

Carolina, Fussell’s youngest of four, will be finishing her sophomore year at SHS at the end of the week, and missing any more of her playing career wasn’t an option.

“That night (of the Elba tournament), I left there and went straight to (SHS athletic director) Trent (Taylor’s) house and just told him that I wasn’t going to do it anymore,” Fussell said. “I didn’t want to give up the last two years of seeing (Carolina) playing softball, and miss that. I have been doing this for eight years and coaching other people’s kids.

“It was time for me to watch her,” he said.

Fussell then met with SHS principal John Evers and told him that he was stepping down as the baseball coach. Evers gave the coach a few days to think about it.

Fussell’s decision was solidified after he watched Carolina play again in another tournament, this time in Gulf Shores for the regional.

“After watching her play there I really knew 100 percent certain that I was done,” Fussell said. “I knew that was best.”

While he may no longer be coaching baseball, Fussell will still be Straughn’s defensive coordinator for the football team, along with teaching at the school.

During Fussell’s eight years at SHS as a baseball coach, the Tigers have won the area championship three times and finished as area runner ups three times. The Tigers have advanced to the playoffs in six of his eight years. He finished with a career record of 151-105.

Straughn’s best year under Fussell came in 2011, when the Tigers — then in Class 4A — advanced to the state semifinals.

SHS set a single-season win record and its semifinals berth was the first in school history.

“That was a really special group for a lot of reasons,” Fussell said. “It wasn’t just about the winning.”

Fussell said he learned a lot about himself during that remarkable season because the group of seniors was the same group of players he had since they were eighth-grade starters on the varsity squad.

“I got to see them through their whole maturation process,” he said. “I will tell you this year that whoever gets this job has got one of the nicest facilities to come into. I’ve got some parents who are coming back, who have been a tremendous help and encouragement.

“That person is going to have a good nucleus of kids,” he said.

Years after seeing former players move on after high school, Fussell said he still gets calls from them.

“I guess one of the things that will always mean a lot to me is that — not all of the kids — I still have a lot of kids who I have coached who will come see me,” he said. “If they’re having problems, then they’ll call me. I know that to some of them that I was more to them as a coach.”

And the help has always been a big contribution to the program, the coach said.

“I’ve had some good players, good help and great coaches,” Fussell said. “I’ve had a great administration. I really have had a great administration. They have supported me every step of the way, so has Trent as an athletic director.”

Evers said Fussell did a fantastic job for the Tigers’ baseball program.

“Coach Fussell has just been a staple here at Straughn,” Evers said. “He’s done a great job for us. We appreciated all he has done. I was very satisfied with the job he had done. The decision he made was on his own, and he’s done a great, great job for us.”

Fussell is married to Virginia, and other than Carolina, he has three children — Lauren, Luke and Courtney.