Many Friday nights, Hendersonville High football coach Jim Sosebee could be found standing near the center of Dietz Field with a smile on his face — and another win added to his legacy.
He won 50 games over the last six seasons as the Bearcat coach. His last win — a dominant 38-13 victory over powerhouse Burns in the third round of the state playoffs — is one of a few reasons that Sosebee has earned his last win for one of the premiere football programs in Western North Carolina.
After 10 years at Hendersonville, Sosebee has been hired to be the next football coach at Crest. Cleveland County Schools approved the hire at its regular School Board meeting on Monday.
“I love Hendersonville,” Sosebee said. “They’ve been nothing but good to me and my family. This is definitely one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made in my life for real. There have been many sleepless nights.”
Sosebee has been coaching for 28 years. He played tight end for the South Carolina Gamecock football team. He then spent time at Byrnes, Greenville, Riverside and Southside High Schools in South Carolina. He spent two years at Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy before joining the Hendersonville coaching staff 10 years ago.
With him came a high-powered offense that has gained fans and opposing defenses in Western North Carolina. His offense — filled with so many gifted athletes — has given opposing defensive coordinators many sleepless nights.
The last two seasons for Sosebee and the Bearcats may have been his best. The Bearcats finished 17-5 in those two seasons with an appearance in the West Regionals and the third round of the state playoffs.
It was those two playoff runs that put Sosebee on the map in the Crest search. Two years ago, the Bearcats booted powerhouse Shelby from the playoffs and last season it was Burns that received the Bearcat bounce.
“That got me on their radar,” the veteran coach said.
And it was hard not to reciprocate that interest. Crest’s reputation speaks for itself, Sosebee said.
“When would an opportunity like that ever come again,” he asked rhetorically. “I think Crest is one of the top programs in the state. It’s a little bit of a bigger stage.”
One thing certain in the move is that Sosebee — just like in Hendersonville — won’t have a shortage of athletes. Sosebee has guided stars like Cole Cleary (Wofford), Michael Schmidt (Air Force) and Gavin Gosnell (South Florida) to scholarships at big programs.
One of the best athletes of the Sosebee era, however, might have been Tykel Landrum. Landrum made big play after big play in the prolific Sosebee offense. Any time Sosebee is asked about one of his players, the coach refers to them as “that fella.” Sosebee’s “fellas” always felt the love from their coach.
“I definitely enjoyed it all,” Landrum said. “When I was younger, I always thought he was the meanest coach. As I got to spend time around him, I got to know him better. He wants you to do good in life.”
And Landrum feels the same towards his former coach when thinking about the impact on his career.
“I’m happy for him,” the former player said. “It’s going to be different without him.”
Current Hendersonville Athletic Director Laura Bruegger backs up that notion. It’s not just about the “outstanding” program Sosebee has built, she said.
“He builds great young men, has high expectations for them and they rise to those expectations,” she said.
All of that is what made the decision for Sosebee so difficult. The Bearcat tradition, the relationship with his players and his community and those nights celebrating in the center of Dietz all gave him pause and forced him to think about the decision.
“I’m going to cry,” he said. “There will be tears.”
For Sosebee, however, its not gone, but not forgotten. It’s not goodbye. It’s a see you later of sorts, he said, because there’s one Hendersonville mantra that the coach won’t forget.
“Once a Bearcat, always a Bearcat,” he said.