Climbing the Ladder: Coaching Diversity in Mississippi High School Football

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COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – Year in and year out, the best high school athletes in the state move on to the next level to play football. However, the athletes aren’t able to reach those heights without coaching which raises the question. Can the same level of progression be said for the high school football coaching ladder?

“You just look around the state of Mississippi, we talk about this too now as coaches, not many black head coaches are at premiere programs,” Starkville head football coach Chris Jones said. “You take JPS out of the whole scenario, Jackson Public Schools, how many head black 6A coaches are there in the game right now?”

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In the 2019 postseason, Jones was the only black head coach in the 6A North region.

Of the 60 plus schools in the WCBI viewing area of North Mississippi and West Alabama, 11 have a black head coach.

“Me just being in my position, a young black coach at Starkville high school, this ain’t normal,” Jones said. “Sometimes, we just don’t get a chance. It’s not that we can’t coach or don’t know as much as the other guys. Sometimes we just don’t get that opportunity, and the opportunity doesn’t present itself because you were never given the opportunity to advance in your field. We only hired you to coach receivers. We didn’t hire you to be the coordinator to run the whole offense. ‘You know what? That’s someone who’s a good young OC who’ll be a good head coach one day.'”

Along with Jones, Tupelo head coach Ty Hardin makes it a point to hire a diverse coaching staff that best represents his players.

Both Hardin and Jones believe improving diversity in the head coaching ranks is the future for high school football.

“The black head coaches we have in the state of Mississippi are probably the best in the nation right now,” Hardin said. “We need more of them, and we’re creating more of them. A lot of these guys that are assistant coaches at places are going to be head coaches very soon. They can talk about issues that or real life issues that people in my color can’t. They can sit down and talk about it because they have experienced it.”

“Honestly, if you don’t want to be a head coach one day, I don’t even want you a part of this staff,” Jones said. “I know with a head coach grind, eventually, you will get there one day. You might be a receivers coach now, but with a head coach mentality, your ownership of your position group will be different. Your grind will be different so when you leave me, this kid right here will be a great coach and just so happens he’s black.”

As change, growth, and progression continues to spread across our every day lives, Jones believes, in due time, the coaching landscape will reflect the same.

“It’s levels to everything,” Jones said. “If we just keep taking the proper steps, we’ll get there.”