CARY — Head football coach Sean Crocker had been at Middle Creek High School for five years, and each day he drove to work -- whether for a game, offseason workout or a normal day at school -- he drove by Panther Creek High.
That commute will be shortened from 35 minutes one way to just five next year, as Crocker was introduced as Panther Creek's new coach on Wednesday.
Both schools are members of the Tri-Nine Conference and are located virtually on opposite sides of Cary.
"We had a tremendous response to the job vacancy," said Panther Creek athletics director Todd Schuler. "I found it intriguing that a successful coach with an outstanding track record at a rival high school would express interest in us."
But Crocker, who has two young daughters, wanted to spend more time with his family. Not only for the short-term, where he would be able to come home more frequently and faster, but for the long term as his daughters will eventually attend Panther Creek.
"As I make this transition, it's pretty much because of my commitment to family and to satisfy a promise that I made over seven years ago when I started my pursuit of a head coaching job," Crocker said. "To be near family and cut a 35-minute drive one way was really big for me, but I could do that at a couple of different places... it had to be the right fit and right situation."
Crocker went 44-22 (31-7 in conference) at Middle Creek, winning three conference titles with the Mustangs and advancing to the third round of the playoffs in 2009.
And because Crocker's Middle Creek teams were always in the same conference as Panther Creek, the new Catamounts coach has a 5-1 against his new school.
All of the Mustangs' success made it hard for Crocker to inform his players that he was leaving.
"It kind of hit them out of left field. A lot of them were shocked and didn't know what to think," Crocker said. "It's always hard leaving guys who you care about."
Crocker replaces Wayne Bragg, who was the school's original head coach since it opened in 2006 but left last month to become athletics director at Panther Creek.
Bragg's teams used more of a pro-style offense, while Crocker's Middle Creek teams were known for their no-huddle spread offenses.
"(Our identity) will depend on what the personnel is," Crocker said.
Panther Creek is the third Tri-Nine Conference team to hire a football coach since the beginning of last week. Holly Springs announced Will Orbin as its new coach last Monday, while Joe Kilby left Cedar Ridge to take the Apex job on Thursday.
Athens Drive -- and now Middle Creek -- are two Tri-Nine teams who still have vacancies to fill. Three other Wake County schools -- Wakefield, Enloe and Southeast Raleigh -- are also trying to fill vacancies for football. The 10 football coaching changes in Wake County account for more than 20 percent of those statewide since the end of last season.