March 25, 2010 10:21:00 AM
M.C. Miller''s move Harrison Central High School in Lyman will come with challenges.
For a program that has had one winning season since 2004-05, the Red Rebels have been known as the school with the state''s largest enrollment but mediocre football team.
The Class 6A ranks on the coast are challenging enough with Gulfport, George County, and Ocean Springs, but outside of last season''s 9-3 record the Red Rebels have struggled with area teams that aren''t in their division.
Harrison Central Athletic Director Lonnie Tillman recommended Miller to replace Ronnie Cuevas, who retired after last season, to lead Harrison Central to sustained success.
Miller has the credentials after compiling a 184-77 record in 30 seasons in Macon. He guided the Tigers to consecutive appearances in the Class 4A state title game in 2007 and ''08, and helped the program beat D''Iberville 12-10 for the crown in ''08.
Tillman said the Harrison Central was impressed with Miller''s track record after interviewing 11 other candidates, but he didn''t mince words when describing what challenges Miller will face in taking Harrison Central to the level of Noxubee County.
Following a division of schools that saw kids have the choice of attending West Harrison or Harrison Central, Tillman said the biggest obstacles is convincing kids to play football over getting a job.
"I think whereas some cities have to do a better job because the kids are so close, there are five or six communities that draw the kids down here," Tillman said. "On top of that, there are so many business within four to five miles of the school. A lot of kids are choosing to work instead of playing football.
"There''s two things that''s going to get 15-, 16-, 17-year-old boys: Perfume and gasoline. Kids want to get cars these days."
While Tillman is confident Miller can overcome the non-football related issues facing the program, he''s realistic about the challenges. He also has made an effort to assist Miller, who he said has the full backing from the administration to build a program, by altering summer workout periods and the access to the weight room. There are now two periods in the morning and evening for athletes to use the weight room.
"We have to convince the kids they can work and play football," Tillman said.
Miller said he''s prepared and aware of the challenges ahead of him, though he said he faced tough obstacles at Noxubee County with what he called "little support" from the administration.
"I''ve heard people say it''s hard to win at Harrison," Miller said. "It''s a challenge for me to go in there and turn the program around. But after meeting with the administration, I felt completely comfortable I''d have everything I need to win down here. They were all in agreement in what I wanted. Everything I needed, they were willing to do it. That''s why I went for it.
"This has been a basketball area down here, but I want to build on what coach Cuevas did last year and do whatever it takes to win."
Miller said it was hard to leave a community he loves, but admitted the move to Class 6A ranks is a step up, despite the success and powerhouse he has helped build at Noxubee County.
Miller cited differences with principal Dr. Hattie Thomas as his biggest reason for leaving Noxubee County.
"I like the community and I always will," Miller said. "You expect changes with someone new coming in, but you don''t want someone to tear down something you built. If I thought things were going to get better, I would have stayed."