The Daleville city school system has been like a second home to Zach Kelley, who spent 13 years there as a student and 14 more as a coach and teacher.
Thus, his recent decision to step aside as the Daleville High girls basketball coach and also depart as a P.E. teacher at the conclusion of the school year was difficult to make.
“I’ve kind of taken a leap of faith, and that’s not always easy,” Kelley said. “It’s bittersweet because I’m leaving here, but I’m also excited to explore other opportunities in the teaching profession.
“I’m excited to see what God has in store for me and my family.”
Kelley spent the past 10 years leading the girls basketball program in compiling a 160-89 record. His best team record-wise was during the 2015-2016 season when the Lady Warhawks went 28-5. He led Daleville to four straight regional tournaments from 2012-2016.
Kelley turned in his resignation on Tuesday effective at the end of the school year and it was approved at the school board meeting on Wednesday.
“I know it sounds cliché, but it just felt like the right time,” Kelley said. “My family has been so supportive of me with my coaching career; I wanted to be supportive of them in the same capacity.”
This past season was a tough one personally for Kelley and his family. His mother-in-law passed away unexpectedly in October and both he and his wife battled through bouts of COVID-19.
“It really put things in perspective when my mother-in-law passed away,” Kelley said. “My wife had a tough battle with corona. It really makes you take a step back and put your priorities in line, especially with your family.”
Kelley wants to continue to stay in the teaching profession and return to coaching at some point, but for the time being he wants to spend more time with his wife and three children, who have now begun playing basketball as well.
“My oldest son goes to Dauphin (Middle School in Enterprise),” Kelley said. “He was the only one playing basketball for the longest, and then my daughter, who is 11, decided this year that she wanted to play. Then I have a 4-year-old (son) and they happen to have a YMCA league for 4 to 6-year-olds, so he got into playing this year.
“I’m not done coaching forever. I’m going to take a little break and help my kids and watch them and be their biggest cheerleader.”
Kelley was a star basketball player during his prep days at Daleville High School, being a starter as a sharp-shooting guard from the ninth grade through his senior season.
He then played two years at Enterprise State, which included being part of a state championship team during his freshman year there in 2004.
After leaving Enterprise State, Kelley spent two years at the University of Alabama. During his junior year, Kelley helped with the Alabama women’s basketball team as a practice player.
“I got to be around the team and all of the coaches, so it was a good experience,” Kelley said.
He spent his final college semester at Troy University in earning his degree in Physical Education and was hired at Daleville shortly after graduating in early December of 2008.
“We had a football coach leave and that position had stayed open from August all the way through December,” Kelley said. “I don’t know if I was the only person to apply or not, but I interviewed and got hired on in December of 2008 and been there ever since.”
Kelley was always interested in becoming a basketball coach, a job his father, Andy Kelley, held for many years at Daleville before going into administration and becoming the principal at the school.
“I just always wanted to be around basketball when I finished (college),” Kelley said. “It’s always been a big part of my life, so I just wanted to follow in the footsteps of my father and be a coach. I wanted to be a P.E. teacher on top of that, so it just kind of went hand-in-hand, so that was my plan the whole time.”
During his first two years back at Daleville, Kelley was an assistant to head coach Troy Turman on the boys varsity basketball team and also coached the JV and junior high boys teams.
When the girls basketball coach position came open in 2011, Kelley decided the time was right to step into the role as a head coach.
Things didn’t go so smooth in the beginning, so Kelley and assistant coach Josh Parrish decided it was time to talk it out with the players.
“After a couple of games, we had a big meeting with the team and let them talk to us and we talked to them and let them know what we expected,” Kelley said.
“I think we were kind of too hard on them at first and they didn’t respond, so we had a little heart-to-heart meeting and that really changed our whole season.”
Kelley adapted well to coaching girls.
“Girls are more eager to learn, but you kind of have to be more understanding and try to meet them halfway,” Kelley said. “You can’t get on girls like you can guys. They kind of respond differently.”
Though having several opportunities to try and move into the role as the boys basketball coach at Daleville, Kelley decided he wanted to keep coaching on the girls side.
“The timing just wasn’t right and I really enjoyed the girls,” Kelley said of not pursuing the boys basketball job. “I had a good group and didn’t want to lose them at the time.
“I thought if it ever came open again I might jump at the opportunity, but it just didn’t feel right to me, so I just stuck with the girls.”
It proved to be a good move for Kelley at Daleville and he hopes to again coach the game of basketball at some point in the future.
As for now, however, being supportive of his family is the top priority.
Jon Johnson is sports editor of the Dothan Eagle and can be reached at email@example.com or 334.712.7965. Support his work and that of other Eagle journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at dothaneagle.com. Follow Jon Johnson on Twitter @eaglesportsed