PCA’s Willis resigns, hands reins to Campbell

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 12, 2002

[04/12/02]Mitchell Willis took the girls’ head coaching job at Porters Chapel Academy, in part, to spend more time with family members. He’s leaving the job for the same reason.

Saying he wants to spend more time with his family, Willis resigned as PCA’s coach at the school’s board meeting this week.

“The main thing was my family,” said Willis, who has two young daughters, Allie, 4, and Madison, 1. “I don’t want to look back when they’re 20 years old and in college and say … I should’ve spent more time with them.’ ”

Willis’ assistant, Kelli Campbell, is expected to take over as head coach next season. PCA athletic director Bubba Mims said a contract won’t be approved until the board’s next meeting on May 13, but didn’t anticipate any objections.

An assistant coach will also be hired, but Mims said there were no leading candidates yet. Campbell, 23, will continue to coach the junior high team, which she led to a 16-8 record last season. The season before, the Junior Lady Eagles won only one game.

“I was real pleased with how she practiced and her work ethic,” Mims said. “I think it’s best to build from within, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Campbell said the transition from assistant to head coach might be more diffiult for her players than for her.

“I think it’s still going to be a little different, basically because I didn’t make the calls last season and if they didn’t agree with something, they’d come to me,” said Campbell, a Warren Central graduate who attended Southern Mississippi on a soccer scholarship. “But they know me and they know my ways. I’ve been around them for about four years now.”

Some of Campbell’s junior high players may get to play for her on the varsity level before long. Campbell said she was only sure of seven players who will play next season, and four of them will be seniors.

“I don’t care how many there are. They have heart and work ethic, and I feel you can go a long way with that,” said Campbell, who was a three-sport star at WC, when she was Kelli Curry.

Willis came to PCA in 2000 and coached the Lady Eagles to two state tournament appearances and a 47-23 record in two seasons. He took the job, in part, to coach his younger sisters, K.K., E.J. and Brady Willis. E.J. and K.K. Willis have graduated, and Brady Willis will be a senior next season.

Mitchell Willis also owns a farm and a store, and said the long, year-round hours were beginning to wear on him and his family. In the summer, farming ate up most of the day. In winter, it was basketball and running the store, and in the spring, his wife’s work as an accountant meant even less time for the family to be together.

“We put in some crazy hours on the farm, and then you turn around and go right into basketball season. Now, it’s tax time and my wife is working late … and we just kept missing each other,” Mitchell Willis said.

He nearly stepped down after the 2000-01 season, but came back to try to win a state championship. PCA was derailed by Delta in the second round of the Academy-A state tournament.

With Campbell ready to take over the program, it was time to step aside, Willis said. Willis was offered a contract to return to coach the Lady Eagles next season, but turned it down.

“I would’ve considered staying if they wanted to hire somebody I didn’t like or that I didn’t think could do the job,” Mitchell Willis said.

“I can’t give them the time they need in the offseason. I’ve got too many irons in the fire. And I can step down knowing that (Mims) had the confidence to hire Kelli.”

Mitchell Willis said he’ll attend as many PCA games as he can next season, and admitted that he’ll miss coaching when October rolls around. But all he’ll have to do to be reminded it was the right decision is to turn and look at his daughters.

“I’m still going to go to those games that I can get to. I’m going to miss it, but I don’t regret it,” Willis said. “It’s time. My kids are getting older … I could have six Michael Jordans out there, I’m still going.”