May 15, 2010 11:07:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- It didn''t take long for Starkville Academy to find a boys basketball coach to replace Clay Stringer.
Former Harrison Central High School assistant Chris Lyle was hired as Starkville Academy''s coach Friday afternoon.
After meeting with athletics director Glenn Schmidt on Wednesday, Lyle accepted the job Thursday night and will begin his first head coaching position just four years into the profession.
He replaces Stringer, who accepted the principal position at Hillcrest Christian.
A Mississippi State graduate and former pitcher at Pearl River Community College, Lyle spent three seasons as an assistant to Francisco "Boo" Hardy at Harrison Central following one season as a junior high coach at North Gulfport.
First contact started Monday and Lyle had the job by the end of the week, capping a process he called "a dream come true."
"To say it''s a golden opportunity and that I''m exctied would be a gross understatement," Lyle said. "I''m extremely excited to get my first job in a place I''m very familiar with."
Harrison Central went 53-32 with Lyle as an assistant and he''s confident the tutelage he received from Hardy and the experience coaching against Class 6A competition in the public school league will help the learning curve he''ll ride being a first-year head coach.
"Being able to handle the pressure just being the focal point of the program will be new as you get the attention, whether it be negative or positive," Lyle said. "Being an assistant, I never had that before. Expectations from the community, parents and the school and how to handle that will be new, but luckily I had a head coach at Harrison who allowed me to be involved with the media and prepared me to be a head coach. I learned an awful lot under coach Hardy about how to teach young men how to become men and become winners."
Lyle''s speedy hire was aided by Schmidt and the Starkville Academy administration having a heads up about Stringers imminent departure. Schmidt had a great relationship with Stringer and she knew of his passion to work in administration, and it was Stringer who gave her the go-ahead to search for his replacement before his move to Hillcrest was official.
"We found out that Chris was just a perfect fit and wouldn''t be that different of a personality," Schmidt said. "He''s a well-rounded young man with values. He''s focused, has a family and a wife going back to vet school at MSU. He had a tremendous desire to come back to this area.
"It''s one of those things you feel right about. He has great basketball background coaching in the big leagues he was in. He''s a builder and wants to continue taking the program into the future. He''ll be in it for the long haul."
The Volunteers won just one game last season after winning 20-plus gams the year before. The team experienced vast turnover from the previous season and fielded an inexperienced group in Stringer''s final season.
Schmidt said she didn''t have second thoughts about handing the reigns of the program to a coach who''d never led a varsity program.
"I never considered that he hadn''t been a head coach because of his exposure at his role," Schmidt said. "He was moved into the assistant varsity position by a head coach (Hardy) who sought him out. We talked with that coach for quite a while about their relationship and the trail that he''s been on.
"Fortunately, someone looked at me when I was 23 and said ''tag, you''re it.'' I''m confident in his basketball knowledge and I have no doubt he''s a great fit."
Lyle experienced a similar rebuilding situation at Harrison Central.
After going 23-8 and falling in the playoffs to eventual 5A state champion Biloxi, Harrison posted a .500 record the following season. The highs turned to lows quickly, but the key was positive energy and maintaining a consistent level of excitement.
"I''m familiar with a program that''s struggled, but the you have to look at the positives of the people you are working with," Lyle said. "They''ve had down times, but all that tells me is they''re hungry to win. I realize it won''t be an overnight success story but I believe we can compete at the highest level."
Schmidt said she was sold after interviewing Lyle.
"He never asked me ''why did we only win one game?'' He only talked about what he''d like to do and how he envisioned to move the program forward," she said.
During Lyle''s time at Harrison Central, Lyle coached against Mississippi Association of Independent School teams Madison-Ridgleand Academy and Jackson Academy.
He describes his system as "up-tempo" but said offensive sets will be multiple to suit the roster.
"I''m like (Mississippi State had football coach) Dan Mullen in the fact that we''ll adapt to what we have," Lyle said. "We''re going to be multiple as far as what we like to run set-wise. I''m going to really stress defense. Defense is the big reason you win championships."
Lyle prepped at Temple Christian School in Gulfport, winning a district title before finishing his senior year at Gulfport.
He will teach social studies at Starkville Academy and hopes to make it up to Starkville at the beginning of next week.
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