Chris Jones holds up the state championship trophy after his Kemper County High School football team beat Charleston 12-8 in the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 3A State title game on Dec. 3 at Mississippi State's Davis Wade Stadium. On Wednesday, the Starkville-Oktibbeha County District School Board unanimously approved the hiring of Jones as the 19th Yellow Jackets football coach. He will be introduced at 2 p.m. today. Photo by: Chris Todd/Special to The Dispatch
January 19, 2017 10:54:39 AM
Kemper County High School football coach Chris Jones left a good impression on Starkville High School Athletic Director Milton Smith Sr. after an interview for the new Starkville High football coach position.
Smith had talked to several coaches who were interested in becoming Starkville High's next football coach. But each time he thought of Jones, he felt like he would be the right choice to take over the program.
On Wednesday, the Starkville-Oktibbeha County District School Board unanimously approved the hiring of Jones as the 19th Yellow Jackets' coach at a special board meeting. He will be introduced at 2 p.m. today.
"Just talking to him, you got the sense he was real genuine about taking care of the kids," Smith said. "He knows his Xs and Os, but the main thing he knows is the kids. He wants to make sure we're making better young men. The wins are going to come. He's going to win some football games. I just saw the passion he had for the kids."
Jones takes over for Ricky Woods, who spent two seasons at the school and led the team to the 2015 Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A State championship. After Starkville failed to make the playoffs in 2016, Woods resigned and decided to return to South Panola High, where he will coach that school's football team.
Kemper County High hired Jones, 34, was in 2012. He went 9-4 in his first season in 2013. The Wildcats finished 1-10 in 2012. Jones capped a four-year stint at Kemper County this past season when he led the Wildcats to the 2016 MHSAA Class 3A State championship. He had a 45-12 record at the school.
"My mission and what I'm going to preach, we're going to strive for excellence on and off the field," Jones said. "I want these kids to be able to cash in on college opportunities because, in my opinion, Starkville has some of the best athletes. The wins will take care of itself, so we're going to focus on doing the little things right and doing the stuff that allows you to win. I want them to know that there's a bigger world out there and football can take you to bigger and better places. We're going to use the game of football to help these kids advance in life."
Smith said he hopes to have Jones at Starkville full-time by March 1, but Jones feels like it will be much earlier than that, possibly two weeks. He said Kemper County hasn't let him out of his contract, but they told him they will.
Search committee member Jay Perry felt like they could be picky during the process. Woods resigned Nov. 16. Perry was on the search committee that hired Woods. He said the committee took its time to fill the job because he felt like the job is one of the best in the state.
"A lot of people when they're doing this search for a high school football coach, they want to do it quickly and they want to hurry up and get someone hired," Perry said. "We just took the approach that instead of speed we wanted to be diligent enough to make sure we hired the right guy. We were looking for somebody that would help and inspire young men, that would motivate young men on and off the field. At the end of the day, this person will be judged on whether they win football games. It kept coming back to Chris."
Perry, who serves as the voice of the Yellow Jackets and is an attorney in Starkville, said he spoke with a junior college and a college coach during the process and they had nothing but good things to say about Jones. Perry said one of the coaches said if Starkville didn't hire Jones, he was going to, and the other called Jones the best coach in the state of Mississippi.
Perry said nearly 30 people applied for the job and another dozen inquired about the job. He said the search committee submitted three names -- he didn't release the other two finalists -- to superintendent Lewis Holloway for his approval. Lewis interviewed all three candidates and nominated Jones to the school board.
School board secretary Anne Stricklin said they didn't meet with Jones, but had a pretty good idea about him after talking with Holloway.
"The things that made him such a great candidate for our school is his variety of experience coaching at the high school level and he has played professionally," Stricklin said. "He comes from a family of educators, and I know in his interview he talked about not just wanting to grow football players, but growing young men. That's such a positive characteristic to continue on the great success we've had with our athletic programs and to develop our young men also."
Jones played at Noxubee County High and Jackson State. He joked that he had a "few cups of coffee" in the NFL before playing in the Arena League and in the Canadian Football League.
Stricklin and school board president Jenny Turner hope Jones is the coach at Starkville for a long time.
"He's won a state championship, he's played at multiple levels, he's known for having leadership, not just on the football field, but also good leadership skills with young men, so we're excited about him coming," Turner said.
Smith said Jones' work at Kemper County speaks for itself.
"As a head coach, he's expecting to win, he's expecting the kids to do right at all times, including away from school," Smith said. "I think he's going to come and bring a nice, powerful, young mind-set to it and change the game up for us."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Ben Wait on Twitter @bcwait
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.
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