June 15, 2013 10:52:50 PM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Coming home isn't always a no-brainer.
Coaches have to consider the tradition of a program and whether their families and children will be able to make a smooth transition if a move is made.
What some would consider stumbling blocks didn't amount to much to Travis Garner.
As a former baseball player at Starkville Academy (Class of 1999), Garner was well aware of the three state championships Danny Carlisle and the Yellow Jackets won in 1986, 1987, and 1991. He also remembered how passionate the community is in its support of the athletics, so he didn't have to do a lot of heavy lifting when it came time to decide if he was going to leave Northridge (Ala.) High School in Tuscaloosa and become the new baseball coach at Starkville High.
"When (Starkville High Athletic Director Dr. Stan Miller) told me all of the things the Starkville School District does for athletics and how they support it, my question was, 'You're going to have 100 applicants,' " Garner said. "It is just so different. There is so much more support for it. Tuscaloosa is a football town. Starkville is more of a baseball town. From that standpoint and knowing what I already knew and after talking to Dr. Miller a couple of times, this was a no-brainer."
On Friday, Starkville High introduced Garner, 32, as its new coach. He replaces Brian Jones, who left the school after one year to take a job as baseball coach at Pearl High. The Starkville School District Board of Trustees approved the hiring of Garner on Tuesday night.
Miller praised Jones for working with a young team and instituting changes, including the creation of a weight program. He thought Jones would be an ideal fit to replace Carlisle, who coached for 29 seasons at the school, but found himself looking again shortly after the end of a 16-15 season in which the Yellow Jackets advanced to the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North State playoffs. He said he was fortunate to find someone as qualified as Garner, who is from Sturgis, who guided Northridge to five consecutive 20-win seasons. He said one look at Garner's résumé and the fact that Garner's wife, Alicia, is from Water Valley and went to school at Mississippi State University, helped him believe he had found the right man to provide continuity.
"I love what Brian did in his first year. He is a workaholic," Miller said. "Then I look at this guy (Garner) and what he can put on the table and what we can do what Northridge didn't do for him, and this is a match made in heaven for the school district. I am totally happy."
Miller said Garner is certified in physical education and health and that he will teach at the high school.
After graduating from Starkville Academy, Garner had a standout career at Meridian Community College and at the University of Alabama. As a senior, Garner led Alabama to a second straight Southeastern Conference tournament championship and hit .365 with a team-best 88 hits.
A professional career followed with the Kansas City Royals organization. As his playing stint ended, Garner's desire to coach intensified and was influenced by former Alabama coach Jim Wells.
Garner coached nine seasons at Northridge High (the former Tuscaloosa Central). Northridge won 24 games this past season, and lost in the third round of the Alabama High School Activities Association's Class 6A playoffs.
Garner said the opportunity to build a championship program at a school that supported athletics outweighed the benefits of taking a job to come home. His goal is to build the Yellow Jackets back to the championship level Carlisle reached in the late 80s and early 90s. He plans to do it with a fundamental mix that includes bunting, running, moving runners, and situational hitting. He won't pass up a three-run home run, though, if he is fortunate to have a few boppers in the middle of the lineup.
"I know they were young (in 2013), and I do know there are a lot of people back, but we're also stepping up to Class 6A," Garner said. "That is a challenge in itself, but all in all I know the cupboard is not bare."
Travis and Alicia have two children, Avery, 5, and Ty, 3.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.