North Charleston High School's scramble to find a football coach ended Tuesday morning when the school hired Gerald Hemingway.

Hemingway, who last year was an assistant coach at Columbia's C.A. Johnson High, was offered a contract Monday night, signed it and then led the Cougars through their first practice of the season Tuesday morning.

The hiring meant a late start for the Cougars. Most High School League teams began practice July 30.

North Charleston principal Juanita Middleton confirmed the hire Tuesday. She said she had offered the job to former Wagener-Salley coach Ryan Russell, who had until Friday to accept the offer.

"But he had some second thoughts," she said of Russell. "His wife was pregnant and he wasn't sure if he wanted to make the commute."

Attempts to reach Hemingway on Tuesday were unsuccessful. But the Charleston County School District sent out a press release via e-mail.

"Coach Hemingway is an experienced English teacher with a master's degree in English from South Carolina State University and a Master of Science in health sports science from The Citadel," the e-mail read. "He has been an English teacher and an assistant football and basketball coach for 11 years. His most recent assignment was at C.A Johnson High School (in) Columbia where he was an administrative assistant for administration."

The release said athletic director Nathaniel Pearson and staff member Jon Rose coordinated summer workouts for the football team.

Middleton said it was a challenge to find a new coach.

"People have to understand we hire teachers," she said. "After we hire teachers, we add on supplemental jobs like coaching. We can't go out and hire a full-time football coach. We can't do that because we are not a big school."

Hemingway replaces Jimmy Brown, who stepped down as football coach last May after being fired as the girls basketball coach.

Brown coached the football team for five years and led the Cougars to a 12-2 record last fall. Middleton said Brown could remain as football coach at the time of his termination as basketball coach, but Brown decided to pursue another head football coaching job.

Reach Philip M. Bowman at pbowman@postandcourier.com or 937-5592.