Doug Illing struggled with the emotions.
He even fought himself trying to get back to his old ways. It never happened.
The Socastee football coach resigned his post Tuesday after six seasons with the Braves, 21 overall as a head coach and more than 30 total on the sidelines. He cited personal feelings about what it took to be successful, but also what was fair and right to the players.
“It’s a weird feeling I’ve had for the last four-five months,” Illing said. “To be a head coach, you’ve got to be passionate for it and have a fire in your belly. You have to be able to jump up and down. I don’t have that passionate feeling with the head coaching duties. Being around the kids, doing the Xs and Os, all that’s great. I went to clinics and loved it. But getting back into that office and doing things behind the scenes? You have to be passionate.”
Illing said that he eventually envisions being involved with the game again, possibly as an assistant. But for the time being, he’s going to continue teaching at Socastee without a formal sports role.
His departure from the football job was unexpected news to the Braves’ administration. Athletics Director Tim Renfrow said he and Illing first discussed this in the past couple days. Still, the school moved fast in naming his replacement.
Assistant and former Aynor head coach Marty Jacobs has been appointed to the position on an interim basis, effective immediately. He will be responsible for all head coaching duties for the foreseeable future, including the 2019 football season.
Jacobs served as the head coach at Aynor between 1999-2004. In that time, the Blue Jackets had two winning seasons and qualified for the playoffs three times. Since coming to Socastee, he has filled a variety of roles, namely for the football and girls basketball programs.
He was one of the finalists for the head football coaching job when Illing was hired in 2013.
“It’s not time to go out looking for a head football coach,” Renfrow said. “With Marty here, we’ve got the perfect person in house. We’ll get through the season and see what he wants to do and go from there.”
Much like Conway and Carlton Terry in 2017, Socastee’s new interim coach will essentially have a one-season job interview, if Jacobs decides this is something he wants long-term.
And among the biggest issues he’ll be charged with continuing to address is roster size.
Two seasons ago, Socastee was frequently taking the field on Friday nights with an availability of players that resembled that of a Class 3A program, not a team in the state’s largest classification. Illing never shied away from the topic — often voicing his frustration with it — and he had started to make strides in fixing the problem.
Socastee’s roster increased by 14-15 players on average week-to-week during the 2018 season.
Yet, wins were hard to come by.
Under Illing, Socastee was 30-36. Nearly two-thirds of those victories came during his first two seasons, including the inaugural one while Hunter Renfrow was behind center. The eventual Clemson standout receiver and now-Oakland Raider led the team to a 12-1 mark in 2013, which tied the program’s best single-season record (set the year before).
The team also made the playoffs the following season, going 7-5 with a large crop of first-year starters. However, production dropped off considerably from there. The Braves had losing seasons each of the next four years, capped off by a 1-7 ledger during last fall’s flood-shortened campaign. In region play, Socastee was 10-20 during Illing’s tenure.
It was a stark contrast to what he was able to achieve at Davie County (N.C.). There, he was 127-66 in 15 seasons, highlighted by a 2010 appearance in the Class 4A state finals.
“Of course you want to win. But it’s more about the culture that you develop,” Illing said. “It’s about the kids and helping them chase dreams and achieve dreams. You want to win those games along the way and develop those kids’ attitudes. I’ve always been able to jump back on that horse. … I have been able to change myself to do it better. I can’t continue to lead the program and have that kind of feeling. I can’t be a token coach.”