GCCC football coach Tatum resigns to take job in Mississippi
By ADAM HOLT
There weren't a whole lot of jobs out there that would convince Jeff Tatum to leave Garden City Community College.
Just one, in fact.
But when Mississippi Delta Community College came calling, Tatum couldn't turn down the chance to lead the program at his alma mater, the school that gave him his first coaching job. So Thursday afternoon, Tatum sent in his resignation as head coach of the Broncbuster football team.
"It was one of those things, it was a hard decision," Tatum said. "It was something that my wife and I had discussed over the holiday, if they did offer, should I interview, and those type things. It was a very hard decision just to interview, because I've enjoyed my time here at Garden City."
Mississippi Delta, located in Moorhead, Miss., contacted Tatum after the Busters beat then-No. 7 Copiah-Lincoln in the Mississippi Bowl. The Trojan's previous head coach, Todd Lott, resigned after one year, citing personal reasons. At first, Tatum wasn't interested. But MDCC called back last week, and after talking with GCCC president Herbert Swender and Athletic Director Dennis Harp, he agreed to interview over the phone. He was offered the job Wednesday, and accepted.
The allure of returning to the place where he got his start was too much. Tatum was an assistant coach for the Trojans for 11 years, beginning in 1987, and was on the staff of the MDCC team that won the national title in 1993. In his playing days, he was a quarterback at Mississippi Delta, earning all-conference honors.
"That was probably the only reason I talked to them," Tatum said. "A couple other community colleges contacted me from down there, and I did not apply for any of them, I did not interview for any of them. ... Having played there, and coached there, was the only reason I even considered going there."
Tatum went 9-11 in two season at Garden City, rebounding from a 2-7 first year to a 7-4 record in 2012, capped by that bowl win in December. He was named KJCCC coach of the year for that turnaround season, and in his two years had a KJCCC offensive player of the year in quarterback Nick Marshall (2012), and defensive player of the year in defensive end Chaz Nelson (2011).
Mississippi Delta contacted Harp first to ask permission to speak with Tatum, which Harp appreciated. And both he and Swender gave Tatum their blessings to take the job if offered.
"That's our motto, from here, go anywhere," Swender said. "We're happy with the job he did. It's an opportunity for him to go back to his home area. It really wasn't a surprise. Happy for him."
"I think that Jeff and Dawn, his wife, have been a tremendous asset to the Garden City community," Harp said. "I know that I personally, as well as many others, will miss him."
Family also played a part in Tatum's decision. Both he and his wife are from Alabama, and their daughter attends college in Georgia.
"When we were home at Christmas, Dawn and I were discussing about whether I should even consider it," Tatum said. "My mom made the statement, I've actually been home to visit her more the last two years being in Kansas than I did for two years in Georgia."
Another factor was the challenge aspect of it. Mississippi Delta went 1-8 this past season and 0-9 the year before. Rebuilding programs seems to be something Tatum is good at.
"Just like when I came here, one of the reasons I came here was I wanted to get Garden City Community College back to where it was when I was here the last time, in the late '90s and early 2000s," he said.
Tatum won't officially be hired until next Thursday, but he is heading down on Sunday. His wife, a teacher at Florence Wilson Elementary School, won't join him until the school year is over. Tatum said Mississippi Delta already has arranged housing for him.
As for the rest of his staff, Tatum said he'd like to retain all his assistants, but has to wait until he sorts out the situation at MDCC. Hiring practices are different in the state, and all of his coaches at Mississippi Delta will have to teach classes at the school; openings for coaches are dependent on the needs of the school academically, as well.
Because classes aren't in session at GCCC yet, and how quickly the process went, Tatum hasn't gotten a chance to talk to his players yet. He said he plans on contacting them all by phone to talk about his move.
"I hate not being able to look each one of them in the eye and say goodbye," Tatum said. "That's probably my only regret is not being able to tell them personally goodbye."
Garden City will begin its search for Tatum's replacement immediately, and Harp said they'll hope to make a hire well in advance of National Signing Day, in early February.
Tatum said he's confident the program will keep on moving up even after he's gone.
"I don't think the program's gonna take a step back," he said. "Because I feel like whoever they hire will pick up where we left off and keep taking the program to the heights that it can go to. I was a very small dog in us winning, and whoever they bring in will continue the success."