East Mississippi Community College head football coach Buddy Stephens speaks to Starkville Rotarians at the Starkville Country Club Monday. He laid out his roadmap for success and discussed the effects the Netflix series "Last Chance U" had on his decision to modify his behavior. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
February 13, 2018 10:50:21 AM
STARKVILLE -- While it is easy to get caught up in the accomplishments of the East Mississippi Community College in Buddy Stephens' 10 seasons as head coach, Stephens likes to warn of the pitfalls of success.
Stephens shared his program's recruiting philosophy and explained how the program has been built into a national power at Monday's meeting of the Starkville Rotary Club.
"Success does not happen overnight," he said. "It is a long process. It involves a lot of people. As you prepare to have success, you have to be aware of the pitfalls of success."
Stephens tied a successful football program to a successful business.
He said there are two main pitfalls to success. To achieve success, one has to work to exhaustion. One also needs to be surrounded by people who think well in groups.
"To achieve the highest level of success possible, you will work yourself to exhaustion," Stephens said. "It is important to take care of your body to make sure you do not over-extend yourself. You have to have a team full of 'we' people. You don't need players who say 'I.' This is a 'we' thing. Everybody has to pull together. Everybody has to push in the same direction."
Under Stephens, EMCC won the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) national championships in 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2017.
During the 2017 season, EMCC won its first six games before losing a regular-season game at Northwest Mississippi Community College. The Lions fell to seventh nationally but regrouped with two more regular-season wins, two state playoff wins and a victory over Arizona Western College to win the Mississippi Bowl and the national title.
"Football teaches you about adversity," Stephens said. "How do you respond when you get knocked down? We have to deal with a lot of adversity in each of the past three seasons. It's not always easy. That is what junior college football is all about. Often times, junior college football is not the planned destination point but it can get you to where you want to go."
Stephens asked the audience how many had seen "Last Chance U," a Netflix documentary which chronicled the EMCC program during both the 2015 and 2016 seasons. After the debut of the series in 2015, Stephens vowed a change in his personal demeanor.
"I am really sorry for those of you who watched that," Stephens said. "We are all always changing. Most often, the change is for the good. As a Christian, we are called to be better fathers, servants, leaders of men. This is a not a 'Last Chance U' for everybody. In some cases, we have players who come from good situations. We have some players who come from rural situations who don't have any financial backing. There are good kids, who simply need a chance. Playing junior college ball in our program is not the last chance; it's simply the next chance."
The first season of the Netflix documentary included a season-ending brawl in a regular-season game against Mississippi Delta Community College. That brawl banned EMCC from postseason play in 2015. The Lions also had to play short-handed in the season opener for the 2016 season. A loss in that opener knocked the Lions out of that season's national championship hunt.
While working to change his coaching demeanor, Stephens sought the counsel of many. At a national coaches convention, Stephens had a chance meeting with legendary Duke men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski.
"He has three daughters just like I do," Stephens said. "I asked him what was the best way to coach my players in a way that would not bring embarrassment to my three daughters. He said to coach from you heart. He told me when I told players something that it needed to come from my heart.
"I have taken that advice to heart," he added. "That conversation meant a lot to me."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
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