After leading the Plano East girls basketball team to its best season in nearly three decades, head coach Jessica Linson is returning to a place she once called home.
On Tuesday, Linson announced that she is taking the same position at South Oak Cliff, where she coached from 2014-16. She departs East after two seasons with the program, leading the Lady Panthers to a 21-4 record, a District 6-6A championship and a trip to the regional finals.
“It was very, very, very hard. I had put in my letter and it wasn’t the easiest decision. There were a lot of sleepless nights that went into this decision,” Linson said.
I will always be in control of MY story! pic.twitter.com/NgltJCEvii— Jessica Linson (@CoachJLinson) June 2, 2021
It was one that materialized through a series of conversations with SOC athletic director and head boys basketball coach James Mays. It wasn’t a position that Linson initially gave much consideration to, but as talks evolved, the coach’s interest in returning to her old stomping grounds increased.
“Honestly, I laughed it off. I was just thinking there was no way, especially with all that’s coming back at East,” Linson said. “But then he called me again and we had a long talk about me professionally with my career and what Dallas could offer me versus Plano.
“There were some financial reasons involved and things in a leadership capacity — things that Plano couldn’t offer me that South Oak Cliff could.”
No doubt Linson’s profile has risen since the conclusion of the 2020-21 season. On the heels of East’s momentous playoff run, its deepest since 1993, Linson said that she had received overtures to coach elsewhere from multiple schools but that SOC was the first time during that process that she gave serious consideration to leaving East.
Part of that emanates from a familiarity with the Dallas ISD high school and an appreciation for its history. Among the stops in Linson’s career prior to arriving in Plano was a three-year run at SOC where she led the program to the playoffs two times and was named coach of the year in her district twice.
Even though five years have passed since Linson last patrolled those sidelines, plenty has changed at SOC. That was evident when Linson recently visited the school.
“When I was first at SOC, the ceilings were falling. There was no air,” Linson said. “When I walked in recently, I cried, because I remembered what it once was. We used to be sliding around in what felt like an ice rink on the floor, so just to be back, that school has so much history for the city.
“It’s at times overwhelming, and there’s definitely some pressure. Now, you’re not just doing something for yourself and for the girls, but you’re doing something for a whole area.”
Linson’s decision means departing an East program set up for big things in the 2021-22 season. The Lady Panthers made their five-round playoff run despite not playing a single senior in their postseason rotation.
“That’s a special group of kids and they’re resilient. They’ll be on their third coach in four years, but that’s such a talented group,” Linson said. “It was heart-breaking for me to tell them. I’m not sure they entirely realize what’s going on — I’m still in contact with them and helping with their recruiting. Telling them I’m leaving was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.”
Linson echoed similar sentiments when looking back on her time in Plano ISD.
“I feel like in two years, I got a crash course in life that I don’t think I would have experienced anywhere else,” she said. “There were a lot of obstacles we overcame, and I think I learned how to be more creative and more innovative up there. I feel like being in Plano really equipped my tool belt for my next stop.”
She’ll look to carry those skills over into her second go-around at SOC, a program that has qualified for the playoffs the past 12 seasons and advanced to the area round the previous five. And she’ll do so with a watchful eye on her former team back at East.
“That’s the thing: You’re leaving a potential state contender,” Linson said. “You’re leaving some great kids, but I’ll always be keeping an eye on them. They’ll always have a special place in my heart.”