April 9, 2010 11:30:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- The day Starkville High School football fans waited for came Thursday when Jamie Mitchell was formally introduced as the head coach.
With an estimated crowd of 50 people in attendance, Mitchell was given his first Starkville coaches polo and cap by Starkville School District superintendent Judy Couey and began his tenure as the Jackets'' coach by delivering a motivational foreword.
After going 40-10 in four seasons at Itawamba Agricultural High School, Mitchell opted for a job he tried to get more than 10 years ago.
He and his wife are Mississippi State graduates and the chance to return to Starkville was appealing.
Mitchell knew he wasn''t ready when he sought the job more than 10 years ago. He believed he had to grow as a professional.
But after strengthening his resume by building winning teams at Olive Branch and Itawamba, Mitchell believed he had a good shot at the Starkville job when Bill Lee announced his retirement at the end of the past season.
Having coached Olive Branch and being the offensive line coach at Tupelo, Mitchell''s experience in Class 5A and 6A made him the ideal candidate to take over for Lee, incoming athletic director Stan Miller said.
"Everybody I talk to tells me I''ve got a winner," Miller said. "Two things that got our committee, one was he''s taken programs that were down and turned them around. We''re down a little bit now, we know that, but we want people to drive up to our stadium and know they are coming into our house. The other thing that impressed us was when he was at Olive Branch 36 of his former players have been placed in colleges from D-1 to NAIA schools. The same thing at Itawamba."
Mitchell''s credentials impressed the hiring committee, which had to sift through 27 candidates, Miller said.
Mitchell, all smiles in black and gold as his family sat front row, spoke at length about restoring the tradition at Starkville, which won state championships in 1984, 1994, 1995 and 2001.
He also acknowledged the challenges that''s ahead of him. Dealing with low roster numbers and low attendances are at the forefront of his first season in charge.
Mitchell wasn''t afraid to address the issues, because after all, he comes in with the reputation of resurrecting programs and building teams that are among the state''s best.
"I''ve taken over several programs and I hope we can get those older guys to buy in," Mitchell said. "My number one job is to get out here in this hall and start recruiting some players. I know there are some players who are not involved with the football program who need to be there. I''ve got to beat the bushes out here and I''ve got to get our other coaches to do the same thing.
"Hopefully, we''ll be able to get our talent where it needs to be quickly enough that we can compete."
Mitchell acknowledged getting fans back in the stands starts with putting a winning product on the field, but he also admitted he''s going to need help from the administration and the fan base to build a long-term winner.
One aspect in which he vowed to be heavily involved is fundraising, actively working with the booster club to generate non-budgeted cash flow.
Issues facing Starkville include facilities upgrades as the Jackets have used the baseball field for pre-game.
"We need a new football complex, we''re a premier program in the state," Mitchell said. "That football complex out there is not what I would love to see it be. That''s down the road and I completely understand that but our kids deserve that."
A new football facility is the least of Mitchell''s worries as he''s got to get the infrastructure of Starkville''s jr. high program in order. Part of the slide has been inconsistent workout periods for freshmen, often making working out after school as the only option. Mitchell has hit the ground running to fix the disconnect.
"I''ve been over at Armstrong (Middle School) and there''s some needs over there, too," Mitchell said. "I want to get our program improved from seventh to 12th. We can''t just fix this thing on the top end. We''ve got to go back and work in the seventh grade program, that eighth grade program and that ninth grade program for us to be successful on the top end.
"That''s where my last two days have been spent. That is, as Dr. Miller can tell you, is my number one project. To get those three grades fixed as far as practice time, weight lifting time, offseason conditioning -- that''s where the problem has been here. We''ve got to have some carry over from kids going to the eighth grade to ninth grade, and ninth going to 10th grade."
Mitchell said the team will run a 50 defense and will remain consistent in that package, though he didn''t specify what style of offense the Jackets will run this season. Instead, he plans to build around what he''s got to work with, referencing the style shift from his run-heavy Itawamba team two years ago, to last season''s spread passing team.
In building his 50 defense, Mitchell is bringing in Itawamba assistant Brooks Oakley as the Jackets defensive coordinator. Also new on the offensive side of the ball will be Preston Leathers, whose role on the offensive staff wasn''t specified. The retirement of defensive line coach Cleveland Hudson opened up a spot on the staff and Mitchell said all remaining members of the current staff will remain.
Mitchell said part of the deal in coming to Starkville was the chance to bring two assistants, which he believes will help speed up the learning curve for the coaches and players.
"That will help tremendously, having a couple of coaches who both know the ropes," Mitchell said. "I look forward to having them on board, but I''m very excited about the coaches here. We''re going to break our necks to get Starkville football back to where it needs to be."
Spring practice will begin April 26 and Mitchell said he is currently trying to find an opponent for a spring game.