After more than a quarter-century as head coach of Stonewall Jackson’s football team, Jim Powell will not be offered a contract by the school for the 2003 season.
After going 0-10 in his 26th and final season with the Raiders, Powell’s record at Stonewall was 137-120-4. This was the lone winless year in his tenure there, as 14 of his teams had winning records and two (including the 2001 team) finished .500.
Powell guided the program to its first nine playoff appearances and four district titles, but the Raiders had not participated in the postseason since 1996.
Powell, 51, has spent more than half his life as Stonewall’s coach. He refused to comment on his firing Tuesday night, but said he was told of the decision on Monday.
“I don’t really know [if I’ll stay in coaching],” Powell said. “I haven’t thought that far ahead.”
Stonewall activities director Ira DeGrood was unavailable for comment.
In a fax from Stonewall Jackson High School sent Tuesday afternoon, the following three-sentence announcement was made:
“The Stonewall administration has made a decision to make a change in the head coaching position for the Stonewall varsity football program. Jim Powell will not be given a contract to coach the SJ varsity football team for the [next] school year. We thank Coach Powell for his dedication and loyalty to the program for the last 26 years.”
The release also noted that Stephanie Schlatter has resigned as the Raiders’ volleyball coach for personal reasons.
A graduate of Annandale High School, Powell was an assistant coach at Washington & Lee-Montross in 1973 and at Stonewall from 1974-76.
Powell’s 1979 team finished 9-1-1 and made the playoffs for the first time in school history. The Raiders made the postseason three times in the ’80s and five times in the ’90s.
In Powell’s 26 seasons, Stonewall featured a 1,000-yard running back 11 times. Raymond Gee holds the school’s (and Prince William County’s) single-season rushing record with 2,281 yards in 11 games for the ’96 playoff team.
Tuesday night, Gee first heard of Stonewall’s decision to let Powell go. As with other coaches and teachers in the county, Powell was under a one-year contract throughout his career.
“That’s shocking. I didn’t think that would ever happen,” Gee said of the end of Powell’s era near Manassas. “I’m so used to having him there.”
Gee graduated from Stonewall in 1997 and coached running backs under Powell for the 2000 season.
“He was always teaching, telling the kids, ‘Poise, gentlemen, is the key to success,’ ” Gee said. “He would always say that in the pregame speeches he had. As a running back, he told me that I’d never learn how to be a good running back unless I knew how to block.”
Andy Devitt, Stonewall’s head baseball coach and an assistant football coach, also was surprised by the decision.
“I think that all of us are extremely disappointed, all of us as coaches,” Devitt said. “Jim Powell is one of the best coaches there is. If he had the talent of a Hylton or a Gar-Field, he wouldn’t be in this situation. He’s opened doors for me, and I’m extremely grateful for all of that stuff. All we can do now is support him, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Devitt said the coaching staff had no indication a change would take place.
“No, because last year, we were a game away from the playoffs. This year we struggled. We struggled because we’re young and not very talented. Do I see it related to his record? I can’t say that. Did we expect it? No,” he said. “I was surprised, and I speak for other coaches that I’ve talked to.
“We played with what we had, we danced with what brought us. We did our best,” he continued. “All of us are to blame — Jim Powell, Andy Devitt, or any of our other guys. We worked our [butts] off, and he worked his [butt] off.”
In 2001, Stonewall went 5-5 and was in the playoff hunt until the last week of the season. This fall, though, the Raiders failed to a score a point in five of their 10 losses. Two of their defeats came to Cedar Run District rival Osbourn, which had lost 32 straight times.
The Raiders returned five offensive starters and six defensive starters from last season. One of their key losses was second-team all-district linebacker Jackie Watkins, who became a first-teamer in the Cardinal District after transferring to Hylton when his family moved to a larger home.
“They’re upset [at the 0-10 finish this season],” Watkins said last week of his friends still in the Stonewall program. “They said at the end of the year that no one wanted to play, that it seemed like some people weren’t playing hard.”
Gee said that he wasn’t familiar with this year’s team, but that “most of the time you can’t blame it on the coaching staff. A lot of the times, it’s the effort that some of the students gave.”
With Powell’s departure, none of Prince William’s eight public-school coaches have been at their current posts for more than three seasons. Forest Park’s Jerry Williams has led the Bruins for the program’s three years of existence (one with a schedule split between varsity and junior-varsity competition). Four others have just finished their second seasons and three started new jobs this fall.
Staff writer Brian Hunsicker contributed to this report.