NEW MADRID -- When Lennies McFerren came out of retirement to take over the New Madrid County Central basketball program for the second time last April, Eagle fans thought he would lead them back to respectability after a stretch of losing seasons.
But if the program is to make a resurgence, it won't be with Mac at the helm.
McFerren officially announced his resignation and it was accepted by the school board last week. And once and for all, this may be the final time McFerren roams the sidelines as he has accepted the head principal position at Scott County Central High School starting in the 2006-07 school year.
The Scott Central position actually had opened last summer and the school pursued McFerren at that time, but he was locked into his coaching contract at NMCC.
Scott Central hired an interim principal for the 2005-06 school year, but the offer to McFerren was still on the table for the following year.
McFerren said, even as much as he would have liked to continue his coaching career at NMCC, it was an offer he couldn't refuse.
"When I started back coaching at New Madrid County, I didn't expect it to be for just one year," said McFerren. "It wasn't that I had one year in mind, but I had a lot of years in mind. That was before Scott Central came along and gave me an opportunity. It wasn't an easy decision to make. It's probably the hardest decision that I have ever had to make in my profession since I've been in education. My goal was to retire at New Madrid County Central. But this chance came along and that changed it. I hate to leave, but I've just got to leave."
Which begs the question, why not hold out for the principal job at NMCC High School, where he is currently the assistant principal and athletic director?
"It had to be Scott County Central -- I wouldn't want to be a principal at New Madrid County Central," said McFerren. "Why? Because it's too large for me. Scott County is a good fit for me at this stage in my life because it's the right size school. It's an opportunity that just doesn't come knocking every day."
McFerren's much-anticipated return has had mixed results, at least in the win/loss department, as the Eagles defeated Kennett Tuesday night to improve to 8-16 on the season.
They enter Class 3, District 1 play as the No. 5 seed and will play fourth-
seeded Malden on Monday at 5:30 p.m.
While the wins haven't been as plentiful as McFerren would like, he thinks the program is headed in the right direction.
"We're accomplishing as much as we wanted to accomplish this year and that is to leave an attitude of what it takes to win and be successful at our level," said McFerren. "A lot of times you don't get the wins, but you get the guys competing. I wish we could've gotten more wins out of this season, but they've fought and given everything I can hope for. The competition in our league is real, real competitive. We wanted to get back to where we weren't the doormat of basketball in Southeast Missouri so I think people now look at us to where they know they'll have to come out and play."
McFerren gained statewide fame among high school circles for his dominant teams he had at Charleston where he won seven state championships, including a 33-0 run in 1990.
He coached the Bluejays from 1977-1993 and left to take the job at NMCC near his old high school stomping grounds of Howardville.
McFerren's first stint at NMCC was from 1994-2001, compiling a record of 121-70 including three district championships and two state championships in 2000 and 2001.
He was named National Coach of the Year in 2001.
In 24 years in the business, McFerren compiled an impressive 539-168 record and was inducted into the Missouri Basketball Hall of Fame.
NMCC's athletic director and assistant principal since he retired from coaching after the 2001 season, McFerren had no intentions to return to the bench.
But the Eagles, after finishing second in the state in 2002, quickly fell on hard times. They were a combined 23-54 the next three seasons, including a low-
water mark of 6-20 last year.
When coach Scott Kruse resigned last March, NMCC received little interest from potential coaches. That, combined with the fact he was still in the school's system, led to McFerren's return.
"To see the team and school that I love struggle as much as we've struggled the last three years, that prompted me to give it another shot," McFerren said last summer.
Now it will be up to another coach.
"I have a hard time leaving there because they've been so good to me," said McFerren. "I worked at one of the elite high schools in the state of Missouri."