Mark Sartain has answered a higher calling.

The fourth-year Trinity Valley Community College head football coach Tuesday accepted the same position at East Texas Baptist University, a NCAA Division III school in Marshall.

“It’s going to be difficult to leave,” Sartain said. “My family and I are attached to the people of Athens and the college. I still consider Athens my hometown.

“This (the job at ETBU) is something I feel as though I’ve been preparing for my whole career. It’s a good fit for me in both my professional career and spiritual life.”

Sartain was to be introduced as the Tigers’ new head coach at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

He expects to be on the job at ETBU by mid-January.

TVCC athletic director Michael Landers said the search for Sartain’s replacement would begin immediately. He said he hoped to have the new coach in place by mid-January, though it would not be a rushed process.

“I know in talking to (TVCC president) Mr. (Ron) Baugh we are going to take our time and make sure we hire the right person,” Landers said. “We have no plans to rush just to have someone in place by a certain time.”

Landers, who came to TVCC from ETBU, also thanked Sartain for his years of service to the college.

“We really appreciate Mark’s contributions through the years on behalf of the athletes in our program, our institution and our community,” Landers said. “He’s a man of great character and brought the right kind of kids into our program.

“They say you measure success if you leave something in better shape than you found it. He and his staff have done that.”

Sartain, who was the offensive coordinator for the 1994 national champion and unbeaten Cardinals, returned to TVCC as head coach in January of 2003. In his four years at the helm, the Cardinals were 17-23, making the playoffs twice.

The 2005 season was the high-water mark of Sartain’s tenure as head coach. The Cardinals finished strong, going 9-3 and capturing Southwest Junior College Football Conference, Region XIV and Pilgrim’s Pride Bowl Classic titles. TVCC finished ranked seventh nationally.

Returning a large sophomore class, TVCC opened the 2006 season No. 2 in the nation and were the unanimous favorite in the SWJCFC. But turnovers plagued the Cardinals from the start and the season of high expectations fell apart and became a 2-7 campaign.

Sartain first arrived on the Henderson County coaching scene as an assistant at Athens High School in the early 1980s. He then served as head coach at Cross Roads and Eustace before beginning his first stint at TVCC. After a four-year stint as a Cardinal assistant (first on Carl Andress’ staff and then on Randy Pippin’s staff), he left to be the head coach at White Oak in 1995, where he stayed until becoming head coach at TVCC.

Sartain inherits an ETBU program that was 3-7 this past season. The Tigers, who compete in the American Southwest Conference, are 33-39 the past seven seasons since the football program resumed after a 50-year absence.

Being a Division III school, ETBU does not offer athletic scholarships. Student-athletes can receive financial aid through loans, grants or academic scholarships.

“I’m very proud to have been part of the TVCC family for eight years,” Sartain said. “I’m also very thankful for the opportunities the college gave me.”

This is the second time Sartain was offered the ETBU job. He turned it down in 1999 when the school resumed its football program.

“The time was right for me to be at Trinity Valley and now the time is right for me to be at East Texas Baptist,” he said.”

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