Sparks Leaves Coaching to Focus on Athletic Director Job

COLUMBUS, GA - Thursday evening's heart-breaking loss to Clayton State in the Peach Belt Conference women's basketball quarterfinal round now carries a little more significance. It was the last time head coach Jay Sparks will lead the Lady Cougar program.

Sparks, after starting the program from scratch in 1989, steps away from the coaching profession after 20 years at the helm of the program. He will now turn his full attention to running the Columbus State athletic program from the athletic director's chair.

'It is very fair to say that our women's basketball team took somewhat of a hit this season,' said Sparks. 'I was not able to devote my full attention to coaching the team the way it needed to be done because of having to also wear the hat of Athletic Director. That is not fair to the young ladies on our team. Now I can devote 100 percent of my time to being athletic director, and we can bring someone in who will devote 100 percent of their time to being head coach.'

Sparks wrapped up another successful season in 2008-09, guiding CSU to an 18-14 record. In his 20-year tenure, he turned in an impressive career mark of 367-231. His remarkable career includes a span from 1998 to 2003 in which his teams posted an astounding 158-37 record, earned four NCAA post-season berths, won three Peach Belt Conference championships, two PBC tournaments, two South Atlantic Region titles, and appeared in the Division II Elite Eight two times (2000 and 2001), moving to the national semifinal round in each of those two years.

'Jay Sparks has been a true asset as a women’s basketball coach at Columbus State University for two decades. Our next coach will have huge shoes to fill, and will be under the watchful eye of a fantastic teacher, mentor and coach.

The athletic department and the university will benefit greatly from Jay’s leadership in administration and I’m personally looking forward to working with him more closely as we plot a path for an exciting athletic future here at CSU,' CSU President Timothy Mescon said after receiving Sparks' resignation as women's head coach.

Sparks' best season came in 2000-01 when he guided the Lady Cougars to a 25-0 regular season record, the number one ranking in the Division II polls for the final six weeks of the season, a PBC title, PBC tournament championship, and Elite Eight appearance. His squad entered the national semifinal game against Cal-Poly Pomona with a 31-0 record before falling to the eventual national champions for the team's only loss of the year.

'The greatest highlight for me is not just those great seasons, but is being able to start a program from nothing and see it grow to one that is nationally prominent and recognized as a strong program around the country. I am very proud of being chosen to start this program and to be able to build it to where it is now,' said Sparks.

'This is the absolute right time for me to step away and let someone else come in and take over the program. Hopefully, the new coach will come in and take our program even further upward. I have absolutely no regrets whatsoever about the status of our program now. It is in good shape for a new coach to come in and take over,' he added.

When asked about how it would feel next season not being on the bench, Sparks chuckled. 'I don't quite know right now how to answer that. I know it will feel a bit awkward and different, but my goal is to be the best cheerleader for this program that I can. I want to keep enough distance to not be seen as an instigator of any sort, but to remain close enough to give advice if needed.'

Sparks took over as Athletic Director at CSU after Herbert Greene retired from the post last year. Greene stepped away from coaching prior to the 2006 season and served as full-time A.D. until last spring. Sparks has been busy in his first year in the post, helping to usher in a new University president and also leading the move to start four new progams which get underway in the 2009-10 year.