Joey Jones, the only head coach in South Alabama history, will not return in 2018

South Alabama head coach Joey Jones watches on during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017. Mississippi won 47-27. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)

Joey Jones won’t return as South Alabama’s head coach next season.

The school announced Monday that Jones, the only head coach in program history, will step down after coaching the season finale on Dec. 2 against New Mexico State. His contract is due to expire after the season.

The Jaguars dropped to 4-7 on Saturday with a 52-0 loss at Georgia Southern, a team that was previously winless on the year. Entering the NMSU game, Jones has a 52-49 overall record at South Alabama.

“Joey Jones is the father of our football program. He, his wife Elise and his entire family put their arms around the program and committed to its establishment and growth,” said athletic director Joel Erdmann. “He has placed South Alabama Football on strong footing, which is something he and his family can be very proud of and we sincerely appreciate. His good, hard work and commitment will forever be recognized.”

Added Jones: “There comes a time in every program where there is a need for change. For this program that I love so much, that time is now. One of the proudest days of my professional life was being the named the first head coach at South Alabama. Today is difficult, but it is the right step for me, my family and for this football program.”

Jones has been at the helm of South Alabama from its inception in 2007 and guided its transition from FCS to FBS. Under Jones, the Jaguars twice played in bowl games — the Camellia Bowl in 2014 and the Arizona Bowl in 2016.

From the university’s press release:

The announcement of the formation of Jaguar Football was made on Dec. 6, 2007, and Jones was hired as the program’s first head coach just over two months later on Feb. 15. He and his initial staff worked from various points on campus until the completion of the football field house prior to the team’s first-ever fall camp in the summer of 2009.

Jones led South to wins in each of its first 19 contests, which including posting a 7-0 mark in the program’s inaugural season and a 10-0 record the following fall. He guided the Jags through the transition to the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision and competition in the Sun Belt Conference, and after being picked to finish seventh out of eight teams prior to the start of the 2013 campaign he was chosen the league’s Coach of the Year for directing the Jaguars to a tie for third in the final standings (one game behind that year’s co-champions).

In addition to helping USA to a winning conference record the following season, Jones was responsible for guiding the program to its first two postseason bowl appearances — the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl in 2014 and NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl a year ago — as well as the Jaguars’ first-ever victories over a Southeastern Conference school and nationally-ranked opponent. And, his efforts helped the Jags defeat rival Troy in three out of the last four seasons.

Jones said he met with the team and his staff to inform them of his decision, which he made at this time in conjunction with the new December signing period.

“I have met with my team and my coaches to announce my decision,” he added. “I will assist the University in every way possible as they look for the next head coach. I made my decision now to ensure that Joel and his team would have time to conduct their search prior to the new early signing date.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to start and lead this program. I will always hold a special place in my heart for the University of South Alabama, the incredible coaches, administrators and fans who have supported us along the way, and — most importantly — each and every player who has put on the Jaguar uniform.”

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Sam Cooper is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!