CHAMBERSBURG >> The football coaching tenure of Mark Saunders at Chambersburg reached an unexpectedly early end Friday.
Halfway through his sixth season, Saunders handed in his resignation early Friday morning.
Scott Mitchell, who was an assistant coach on the staff, has been placed in the position of interim head coach, beginning with Friday night's Homecoming game against Mifflin County.
"The timing (of a coach resigning) during the season is never good," Chambersburg athletic director Jeremy Flores said. "But we're moving forward from this point. Hopefully, the fans will rally behind the team, coaches and players."
Mid-morning Friday, Flores released this statement:
"Early this morning and effective immediately, coach Mark Saunders has resigned from his position as Chambersburg's head football coach. We wish him the best in his future endeavors.
"Scott Mitchell has been named the interim head football coach for the remainder of the 2015 season. Coach Mitchell and administration notified the student-athletes on the varsity and junior varsity teams first this morning. I have full confidence in coach Mitchell, the staff, and our student-athletes."
Mitchell said, "The players were clearly upset this morning, and there was definitely a lot of emotion."
Later in the day, after a team dinner and a walk through, Mitchell said the team had settled down.
"There are still some emotions, but they know they have a game tonight," Mitchell said. "They need to work through what happened, but I think they are handling it well."
The Trojans are 0-5 and faced another 0-5 team, Mifflin County, in the Homecoming game Friday.
Saunders was in his sixth year as Chambersburg's head coach and finished with a record of 20-38. Chambersburg was 1-9 last year and had its best years under Saunders in 2012 and 2013 when it finished 6-5 and qualified both years for the District 3 playoffs.
Flores said Saunders will remain in his position with the high school's In-School Student Assistance Program.
Prior to the 2014-15 school year, Chambersburg Area School District board members debated whether to renew Saunders' contract as a coach after students and former players complained about his conduct. The board renewed his contract by a 6-3 vote, but later suspended him one game for behavior unrepresentative of the Chambersburg Area School District's athletic department. This year his contract was approved by the school board with no public complaints during the meeting.
Saunders did not return phone calls on Friday.
Mitchell was previously on Saunders' staff as an assistant coach, and then served as the head coach at Hershey H.S. last fall and had a 2-8 record. He resigned from that post and returned as an assistant coach at Chambersburg this fall. Mitchell is a math teacher at CASHS.
"We had a good week of practice and the kids have enjoyed the events of Homecoming," Mitchell said. "We feel good about the game plan we put in, so there's no need to change that.
"It's been a very busy day, and a lot of the things we did were to get the kids ready to play tonight. After tonight, then we'll focus on next week – it won't really change from the normal routine." In his previous stint as a Trojan assistant, Mitchell has served as the offensive coordinator. He has been coaching on both sides of the ball this fall.
He said, "I think I have a pretty good understanding of both offense and defense, and the other coaches have been good about this. We feel we're ready to go."
Flores said that once the season has concluded, the school will go about its normal procedures for bringing in a new coach.
"The position will be opened at the end of the season," Flores said. "We will advertise it and go through the usual process."