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After five good years leading the Red Devils, Williston football head coach Jamie Baker is calling it quits. In a surprise announcement Tuesday, Baker said he would be leaving the football field for the pasture to begin, or rather, reclaim a career in cattle ranching.
“I've enjoyed coaching at Williston,” Baker said. “It's as good a position as I could have had, and my decision has nothing to do with the position or the team or the people here. It was just time for a change of direction.”
Administrators at Williston High School said Baker had notified his coaching staff and the team of his decision, and that he was requesting that administrators immediately begin the search for his successor. He said he had come to the decision only recently, “probably some time in December.”
WHS Principal John Lott confirmed that Baker will be staying on until a successor can be found, and that along with longtime booster Brad Etheridge, Baker will be one of those whose influence will be sought in the search for the new coach.
“He's put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this program, building it up, and he deserves the chance to see that it's being carried on properly,” said Lott.
Lott said he was sad to see Baker go, but happy for him in his new opportunity.
“This is not by any means a bitter parting.”
While the decision comes as a shock, the timing is helpful.
“Actually, if it had to happen, this is the best time for it,” Lott said.
“Most head coaches want to get into a position in time for spring practice so they can get to know the kids, then start setting up their summer workouts.”
Lott says the position has already been posted. Baker taught PE, so the school will not need to seek a subject teacher.
“The applications are already coming in,” Lott said.
“Probably toward the end of the week, we'll start getting them together and seeing if we have some viable candidates, then put together our review committee and prepare for interviews.”
Baker started in the 2005 football season at Williston, succeeding Price Harris, who was 5-15 in his two years with the Devils. Baker came from Osceola High School in Kissimmee, where he had been offensive line coach for then-head coach Ken Scible, and helped lead that team to the 1998 5A state championship. On coming to Williston, Baker went 5-3 in the hurricane-shortened 2004 season, and 29-25 overall in five years, including 2-4 in four postseason appearances.
Although he says he will not seek another head coaching position when he leaves Williston, he won't completely shut the door on coaching.
“I always wanted to coach,” he said.
“I like being around the kids; I like the kids at Williston. In fact, I hope whoever comes in (to succeed him) – I hope I can help out, do some volunteer coaching.”
Although cattle ranching seems a far cry from football, Baker, a native of Osceola County, has never been far from the fields.
“My wife's family has been involved in cattle ranching for generations in Central Florida, and my family's been in it for a long time also,” said Baker..
“It's something I've always loved. I'll have a chance to work with my family now – I'd always hoped to get some stock of my own and never had the chance. Now I'm going to seize that opportunity.”
Baker's coming to Williston was something of a surprise to him, judging from his comments in his introductory interview in the Pioneer in 2004. He said at the time that God had led him to bring his family to Williston. The current decision, he said, was arrived at the same way.
“This was a hard decision for me,” he said.
“Coaching's been putting my bread on the table for 15 years, so it's not easy. But it's something I've got to do. I'll step out and go wherever God leads me. If you'd told me a few years ago that I'd leave Osceola County, where our families have lived for generations, I'd never have believed it. But God puts things in your path.”