PANAMA CITY BEACH — It wasn’t so long ago that Arnold football coach James Hale was the new guy in town.
“You go back to 2000, and you had Steve Hardin at Rutherford, Jim Scroggins at Bay and Charlie Tate at Mosley,” Hale said. “We had a set of the best coaches in the state of Florida. People don’t realize the caliber of coaches we had in the county.”
As time passed by, Hale outlasted all of his counterparts. His 13-year tenure at Arnold will end this year, however, and he announced Thursday that he is stepping down as the Marlins’ head coach effective at the end of the school year. The only football coach Arnold has ever had, Hale led the Marlins to an 80-52 record during his time at the school. Hale said he will take another position in the school district beginning next year, although he said he was unable to reveal what that position is or what it would entail.
Hale, seated at his desk with a wall adorned with awards and accolades positioned over his left shoulder, expressed his appreciation for the woman who hired him, Janice Salares, who was Arnold’s first principal. He thanked his players and their parents, and he shared his gratitude for the community support his program and the school at-large has received during his time there.
“I’ve been the head coach here for 13 years, and it’s the best job I’ve ever had,” Hale said.
Hale, 55, acknowledged that this wasn’t a decision made overnight. He said he previously had given some thought to resigning, but he said he felt loyalty to the senior class that will be graduating this year.
“After my 10th year I thought I might leave,” Hale said. “But it’s hard to leave the beach and this community. Out of all the jobs I’ve had in 32 years, this is the best community I’ve worked in. … I will miss this job. I will miss the kids. But it’s time to go do something else.”
Hale needed a moment to collect his thoughts when asked to describe the support from his wife, Julie, who had served as the school’s athletic director from the day Arnold first opened its doors until last year when she stepped down.
“My wife is the greatest thing to happen in my life, and without her I would have been nothing,” Hale said. “My wife is my hero. The things she went through early in my career when our kids were young. We were in Cape Coral, by ourselves, and to see what she went through with cancer and raising two kids and be there for me at my football game — she is my life. I appreciate everything she has done for me.
“The kids here love her. She’s a great teacher and a great person. She’ll have a bigger legacy at this school than me.”
Hale spoke to his players during a team meeting early in the afternoon before addressing the media. He said he had hinted to his players during the season that this day may come.
Under Hale, Arnold has had 40 football players accept college scholarships. Hale led the Marlins to their first postseason berth in 2003 when Arnold finished 10-1 and reached the Region 1-2A semifinals. Arnold again reached the 1-2A semifinals in 2004. Following a move up to Class 3A, Hale guided Arnold to Region 1-3A semifinal berths in both 2007 and 2008. His 10-1 campaign in 2008 resulted in Hale collecting an award from the National Federation of High School Coaches Association as the state coach of the year.
Hale also served as an assistant coach on Arnold’s weightlifting teams that won state championships in 2006 and 2007. He said he will continue to help that program until the school has found a new football coach. Hale noted that he also would like to be a part of a search committee tasked with finding his replacement.