Donnie Heath has known only Marshall County soccer, over the past two decades transforming from playing at Colburn Field in Draffenville, to coaching his alma mater to the 2019 First Region championship.
So on Thursday afternoon, when he turned in his letter of resignation ... no, it wasn’t easy.
“Not at all,” he said.
But his wife, Samantha, is due with the couple’s third child near Thanksgiving. His son, Jack, starts kindergarten in Paducah this fall, too.
And it’s truly time to be closer to family.
“Life happens, and as a family, we just have to adjust,” Heath said. “And that’s what I’m trying to do, and what we’re trying to do. I’m thankful for the time that I had there as a player, assistant coach and head coach. Last year was definitely a special season to have the run we did in Region 1, and then to cap it all off with a Region 1 championship. The group of boys I got to coach last year ... all three years, really ... were super special. Great people. Great players. Great teammates.
“It wasn’t the plan (to leave) when the season started, but if that’s my last group, I’m very thankful that that’s who it was.”
As a player from 2000-2003, Heath was a part of three district championships, two regional titles and was a starter in 2002 when the Marshals marched to a state runner-up finish that has since been enshrined in the Marshall County Athletic Hall of Fame.
Heath became the program’s fourth head coach in 2017, following Andy Pagel, and immediately went to work for the next three seasons, compiling a 47-16-5 record that culminated into the Marshals’ 500th program victory and 15th regional title in school history during the 2019 campaign.
“I would like to thank Coach Heath for his dedication to our boys soccer program the past few years,” wrote Marshall County athletic director Mike Johnson. “He continued to keep the Marshals as one of the premier high school programs in the state. We wish him the best in the future.”
At this point, Heath is unsure what his career future holds. He was serving MCHS as an eighth-grade social studies and Spanish teacher at North Marshall Middle School, and he owns bachelor’s degree from Murray State University in both history and political science.
And he certainly doesn’t want to rule out coaching in the future.
“I don’t want to say that I’ve coached my last game, because of the same reasons that led to this decision,” he added. “This was unexpected, and I don’t want to say that I’m never going to coach again. I love doing it. I love to interact with the players just as people. And then, of course, there’s the process of trying to build something, continue to work and get better to win a championship. The camaraderie. All of that stuff, I enjoy very much. I don’t think I’ve coached my last game, but as far as what the future may hold ... I’m just not sure. Something that time is going to tell. Life happened.
“I wanted to be closer with the family, in general, but especially with a third baby on the way. I want to be present, be close, be involved in their lives, and be able to do what I’m supposed to do to be a good father and a good husband.”
As for the Marshals? They won 20 games last season, pulled off a rare regional sweep (15-0) despite First Region “Player of the Year” Bryson Penn missing 13 games, and return a roster that includes 14 players that either appeared or started in at least 20 games last season: Ben Burkeen (104 saves, 14 shutouts), Kiefer Court (nine goals, six assists), Logan Davis (three goals), Eric Hicks (three goals, four assists), Parker Kerrick (two assists), William Lynch (10 goals, five assists), Drake May (seven goals), Nick Mighell (two assists), Caleb Nicholls (one goal), Jack Noles (one goal, three assists), Pratik Patel (four goals, three assists), Collin Riley (15 goals, four assists), Collin Shadowen (one goal, one assist) and Tyler Treas (one goal, one assist).
It’s a wealth of talent that should contend for a repeat regional title in 2020, and according to Johnson, the job will be posted “immediately.”
Heath’s staff — which included Bryan Blevins, Tyler McKenty and Levi Darnell — could be the first options discussed, if the previous model of promoting assistants (like Pagel and Heath were) holds.
That aside, this is considered one of the stronger soccer jobs in west Kentucky — if not the entire state. Applicants will be aplenty.
Follow Marlowe on Twitter @dreamarlowe85, call him (270) 575-8661, or email him at email@example.com.