May 22, 2013 10:43:31 AM
STARKVILLE -- A successful first season turned out to be the final one for Brian Jones as baseball coach at Starkville High School.
Jones resigned Monday and has taken the same position at Pearl High. The move caught almost all parties involved by surprise.
"I was not really looking at moving," Jones said. "They contacted me earlier and it is something I just thought about and kept in the back of mind. There are no negatives about the Starkville situation. Our time here was great. I do believe this is a great opportunity as well."
Starkville went 16-15 this season. With a roster dominated by sophomores and juniors, the Yellow Jackets placed third in Class 5A, Region 3 and qualified for the Mississippi High School Activities Association's Class 5A North State playoffs. Starkville defeated Jackson Provine in the play-in round before falling to Oxford in a three-game series in the first round.
"It is a testament to a great group of kids and the resiliency that they had this season," Jones said. "Even through the down times, they kept their heads up. They came out here every day and worked harder to get better. It wasn't just one player either. It was a team thing. Each player was determined to do what he could to help make us better as a team."
Starkville dropped all three games to eventual region champion Neshoba Central. That caused extra heartache for Jones, who came to Starkville after spending close to two decades as an assistant and head coach at Neshoba Central, his alma mater.
At the time, Jones said he was accepting the job at Starkville because it was a "Mecca" and "one of the premier programs in the state."
Danny Carlisle retired after 29 seasons as Starkville High baseball coach after the 2012 season. Carlisle won state championships in 1986, 1987, and 1991. Jones was picked from a pool of 28 applicants to be his replacement.
After losing almost its entire lineup to graduation, Starkville eventually found its stride under Jones. It bounced back from a 7-11 start to remain in contention for the region title until the final day of the regular season.
"The next coach will inherit a team ready to take off," Jones said. "We had some tough losses, but the kids grew through the adversity. I am not sure about the expectations outside the program, but the players believed they could make the playoffs and they worked really hard to reach that point."
Starkville will move into Class 6A next season. The school will start a search for a coach for the second time in 12 months. This opening is not the only one in town, as Neal Henry resigned two weeks ago after four successful seasons at Starkville Academy as baseball coach. Henry left Starkville Academy to become a full-time instructor at the The Winning Inning Baseball Academy in Clearwater, Fla.
For Jones, the time is right to make another move.
"This is an exciting opportunity and it is a good move for my family," Jones said."Pearl is connected to the Mississippi Braves, much like the Starkville area is connected to Mississippi State. Both areas are very good for baseball. The Pearl School District is a fantastic one. The situation arose and it just felt like a really good one to take advantage of."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter