The most successful football coach in Covington High's history has left the program.
Marty Wheeler, who took over a struggling Charger program 10 years ago and led it to three state title games and five region titles, announced today he has accepted the head coaching job at Cleveland (Tenn.) High School.
Wheeler went 85-39 at Covington, making appearances in the state title game the last two seasons and in 2012, finishing runner up each time. The Chargers went 14-1 last season and lost to Alcoa 21-14 in the 3A title game.
He replaces Scott Cummings, who resigned to take a job at Knoxville Halls.
Wheeler will officially begin his new job at Cleveland on Feb. 20.
"Covington will be a special place for me," said Wheeler, who was also an assistant coach at Covington for four seasons. "I can never repay this place for how they've been to me and my family. In 10 years, really 14 years, that's a lot of time and you build a lot of relationships with people, not just in the school building with players, but the people in the community. It's not ever easy to pick up and leave those people. I mean, those are the people you care about."
Cleveland went 4-6 last season and lost in the first round of the Class 6A state playoffs. The team has made the playoffs eight of the last 10 seasons and won state titles in 1993, 1994 and 1995.
Covington principal Mark McClain said today that assistant coach J.R. Kirby has been named the interim head coach.
McClain also had nothing but good things to say about Wheeler.
"We're very appreciative of all he's accomplished with our school, the kids and the community," he said. "We wish him nothing but the best. We'll always support him. It's been an awesome experience. We've seen tremendous growth during these 10 years."
On the selection of Kirby as the interim coach, McClain said, "We're blessed to have a coaching staff like we do. Everybody was very supportive of the decision."
Wheeler took over a program in 2009 coming off two straight 2-8 seasons. He went 2-8 that first season, but got the team to the playoffs the following year. The Chargers made the state semifinals in 2011 and got all the way to the state title game in 2012. He had just two losing seasons and made the playoffs eight times.
He was impressed with Cleveland High School when he interviewed for the job.
"It’s a school I’ve always paid attention to from a distance because I grew up on that side of the state in Alabama. When they were a powerhouse I was still young," Wheeler said. "When I met the administration and the folks from Cleveland it was a lot like what we have here in Covington. One thing that really impressed me was they took time out in the process to acknowledge what we’ve accomplished here in Covington. That was important."
Wheeler made sure to thank his coaching staff and the principals he's worked for at Covington: Mark McClain, Marcus Heaston and Peggy Murdock.
"If they had not believed I was the guy who could do the job, I would not be where I am now. I’ll always be grateful for that."
He called the decision a very difficult one, but "at the end of the day it was an opportunity that was best for my family and myself."
"I want to thank the community of Covington for supporting me all these years and I want to thank all the coaches and players because they’ve all played a role in getting this program back to where it’s supposed to be."
His .685 winning percentage ranks fifth all-time among Covington coaches who coached four or more seasons. The late Jake Linville's .811 percentage over four seasons is number one.
Wheeler is the only coach to lead Covington to multiple state title game appearances. Jack Cain did it in 1971, Jeff McFerran in 2000 and Linville in 2003.
Marty Wheeler's coaching record at Covington