Darton State softball coach Eric Neel announced his resignation earlier this week and is moving back home to Mississippi to coach at the high school level. (Darton State College)
ALBANY -- For the third time in less than a year, the Darton State College softball program is looking for a new coach.
First-year Lady Cavs coach Eric Neel handed in his resignation earlier this week and is awaiting approval to be named head coach at Biloxi High School in Mississippi.
Neel, who recently led the Lady Cavs to a Region XVII championship and an appearance in the NJCAA national tournament, declined to confirm his destination until official school board approval by the high school next week, but several sources confirmed to The Herald that it was Biloxi High, a Class 6A school that sits along the shores of Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.
Before taking over the Darton program in January, Neel was an established preps coach in Mississippi, where he won five state championships over a span of seven seasons at multiple high schools.
For Neel, it’s a move back home.
“My career is not more important than being away from my family,” said Neel, who spent the last five months living apart from his wife and two young children. “We went into this hoping that my wife could get a job in this area, so we could all move here. But in the grand scheme of things, that didn’t work out. … Having to do that again for another year wasn’t worth it.”
Neel had temporarily provided stability to a Darton program that had trouble retaining a head coach after David Dews resigned in July. Larry Willis took over as coach after Dews but resigned in November, and Glenn Eames coached the team in an interim role for two months before Neel was hired.
Neel said he learned during the season that his players were resilient.
“I think the kids on this level are tough. They have a tougher mindset,” he said. “And also, when you think about it, it’s a two-year program so there is a lot of turnover every year. The most you will have kids is two years anyway.”
In his first year with the Lady Cavs, Neel led the team to a No. 13 national ranking and took a 19-game winning streak into the national tournament earlier this month. Darton, which went undefeated at home and finished the season 46-12 overall, went 1-2 at nationals with losses to Odessa College and Chattanooga State.
Neel said it was tough to leave such a talented team that is returning seven starters, including All-American catcher Emily Church and top pitchers Sommar Wright and Tiffany Bishop.
“That was the other side of the decision,” Neel said. “It was tough knowing that we felt we were going to be better next year than this year. But in a way, that’s a good thing because we leave somebody a good opportunity, and somebody very deserving will get that opportunity.”
Neel said he was thankful for the opportunity to coach at Darton.
“The motto of a coach is that whatever situation we are given, we want to leave it in better shape when we leave, and I know I couldn’t have tried any harder or worked any harder to make that happen,” he said. “But you can’t put anything ahead of your family, and that’s what it boiled down to for me.”