RABBIITTOWN -- The coach that led the East Hall boys basketball team to the 2005 Class AA title, three state semifinal appearances and seven state playoff appearances in eight years is leaving Valhalla.
Calling it one of the hardest decisions he's ever had to make, coach Joe Dix informed players and faculty on Monday that he will be exiting the Vikings program.
"It's been a rough day," Dix said. "It's been difficult to know I'll be leaving the kids I've taught and coached."
Dix, who has coached at East Hall since graduating from North Georgia College and State University, will be moving on to take over another program in the state, though he declined to say where.
"I've had other offers, but they just weren't right," Dix said. "This one is the right fit for me, and I just feel like it's time for me to move on -- even though it's going to be very hard for me to go. I'm not going to something bigger and better, just different.
"This is a community school, and you really feel that community within the program. There's a tremendous fan base here, and the kids make it a really special place."
East Hall principal Jeff Cooper recognizes that replacing Dix will be a big task.
"He's been a tremendous asset to our school as a person first off, and he's also been an amazing coach," Cooper said of Dix. "It's a big blow for the Vikings community. I don't think any coach has formed the kind of relationship he had with our kids, which was truly special."
Vikings athletic director George Morgan noted that Dix is more than just the high school basketball coach.
"He's pretty entrenched as a member of not just the school but the whole East Hall community," Morgan said. "He put so much of himself into the program and made himself a very visible part of the outside community."
Cooper said East Hall will immediately begin the search for Dix's replacement.
"We would like to get someone that fits the same mold that coach Dix set for our teams -- the same style that he inherited from coach (Seth) Vining, when he took over eight years ago and made successful with his own style," Cooper said. "Our program has been in good shape for quite some time, and coach Dix is leaving it in great shape."
East Hall went 22-8 last season, reaching the second round of the Class AA playoffs.
For his part, Dix would like to see top assistant and East Hall grad Jarvis Davenport get a shot at the position.
"He's ready. I hope he's involved in whatever decision process they make," Dix said of Davenport, who has been an assistant with East Hall basketball in some fashion since 2001. "I'd love to see him get it, and if they ask my two cents, that's what I'll tell them."
Morgan noted that the school is still organizing a plan of how to pursue its next coach.
"We just got notification (Monday), and we're busy trying to get the school shut down from the end of the year and are tying up those loose ends, so we have only really started having discussions," Morgan said. "We have no definite plans yet, but we're getting those plans together."
Dix joined the Vikings varsity program as an assistant coach for the 1996-97 season, taking over the program in 2004-05 and winning a state title in his first season in charge.
"This is the only place I've ever known (as a coach)," said Dix, a native of Tuskegee, Ala., who played a year at DeKalb College (now Georgia Perimeter College) for a year before moving to North Georgia and playing for the Saints for three seasons. "That was the beginning of it."
Dix was hired as a teacher at White Sulphur Elementary School, where he learned that there were two openings within the East Hall basketball program.
"I was either going to coach ninth grade boys or junior varsity girls," Dix said. "There were two of us interviewing, and I said I'd take the job the other guy didn't want, and he picked JV girls because the stipend was a little better. I interviewed with coach Vining in shorts and a t-shirt."
It was the start of an ultra-successful relationship, as Dix assisted Vining through two state championships (2001, '03) and five state semifinal appearances before taking over and leaving his own legacy with the program.
"We've had some great teams, and I'll always look back fondly on the state championship teams of course -- as well as the Gainesville games, the North Hall games, the national tournaments," Dix said. "Going to Alaska and winning this year was really special. But what I'll miss most is just the yearly thing of getting things together with a new group every year.
"I don't think people know the character of the kids at East Hall. I rarely have to deal with any off-the-court issues, and they all want to work hard and do what you ask. The parents are also supportive, and they've really allowed me to coach their kids."