Sean Gray has stepped down as the head football coach at Southeast Whitfield High School, athletics director Mark Lentych confirmed on Tuesday.
With eight seasons at the helm Gray is the longest-tenured coach in the history of the school's football program. He has the most wins in school history with a record of 32-49. Gray graduated from Southeast Whitfield in 1992 and played safety for the football team before playing football at Cumberland College, now the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky.
He said leaving the program was his decision.
"It's time to spend some time with my kids," said Gray, who has one child in college and two in high school. "I spend two to three hours every day with everyone else's and now I need to cherish the time I get to have with my own."
Gray said he made the decision as soon as possible after the Raiders finished their season last Friday night so the school would as much time as possible to find a replacement.
Lentych said the process to fill the position will not take a back seat.
"The sooner the better just because you can build the relationships," he said. "We're going to talk about it, and sometime soon post the job. We'll just have to see what is best for our students and for our school and go from there."
Gray said he notified the Southeast football team on Tuesday of his decision to leave. He also said he has six more years until he is eligible for retirement and would love to stay local.
"It was as fine as it could be," he said. "I told them that I'm here to help, and I want to stay in Whitfield County. It's a great place to work and a great community."
The Raiders finished this season winless at 0-10 and 0-6 in Region 6-4A, which Gray said did not affect his decision. His most memorable moments came when the Raiders didn't have a losing season for four consecutive seasons from 2014-2017.
In 2014, Southeast defeated Ridgeland on Halloween night, 37-20, giving the Raiders six wins for the season and its first winning season in 28 years. Gray also led the Raiders to defeating county-rival Northwest Whitfield in 2015, 21-12, for the first time in 23 years, and then again in 2017, 21-13.
Gray's most successful season with Southeast was in 2017 when the Raiders finished 7-3. He led the team to an appearance in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs in 2014.
"I'll always remember those nights," he said. "I hate that this is the season I'm leaving on, because we did so many good things at Southeast. I'm so proud of what we've done and I've felt like we have made a ton of improvements.
"I love Southeast and I'm always going to love Southeast."
Gray only had one other heading coaching job at the high school level when he led the Ringgold Tigers from 2003-2006. He was also the head coach for Valley Point Middle School — which feeds into Southeast — from 2007-2011 before beginning as head coach for the Raiders in 2012.
His first coaching job was in 1997 as the defensive backs coach at Gordon Lee.
Gray said he'll sure miss the long days, the joyous moments and everything in-between.
"I really want to thank the (anonymous) donor (which provided funding to the school and athletics program). They've been a huge help over the years," he said. "I want to thank my staff, too. Some of them have been with me the whole time, and they've been an amazing group of men.
"The kids were great. They showed up every day and worked so hard. I love coaching football and teaching kids, so they kept me young."
Lentych said the school will certainly miss Gray, as well.
"You won't find a better person, and since he graduated from Southeast his heart and soul is right there," he said. "We were perfectly happy with him as our coach, and I want to make sure that if he wanted to stay he could have.
"We've had a lot of success with him here, and I will certainly miss being on the sideline with him."