Starkville High School introduced former Kemper County High football coach Chris Jones as its new football coach on Thursday. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
January 20, 2017 10:42:16 AM
STARKVILLE -- Chris Jones and his wife, Shaunacy, walked into the Starkville High School football field house with big smiles on their faces.
Led by Starkville Athletic Director Milton Smith Sr., Jones and his wife greeted those who already had gathered. Jones shook everyone's hand and introduced himself and said how much of a pleasure it was to be at Starkville.
After being approved as Starkville High's 19th football coach Wednesday, Jones was introduced Thursday at a news conference Thursday. Jones feels like he is living a dream getting to coach the Yellow Jackets.
"I was telling my wife and a couple of other coaches, this is the creme de la creme of high school football, especially in the state of Mississippi," Jones said before he was introduced. "I want Starkville to be the face of football when you're talking about Mississippi. I think it should be. You've got the great facilities, the great athletes, and you're going to have a lot of support, so where else would you rather be? Starkvegas, so I'm looking forward to it."
Jones comes to Starkville after spending four seasons (2013-16) at Kemper County High. Jones had a 45-12 record with the Wildcats and led them to the 2016 Mississippi High School Activities Association Class (MHSAA) Class 3A State championship. Jones said he had to start a football culture at Kemper County because it was a basketball school. He said it didn't happen immediately and he trusted the process even when people told him not to take the job.
Jones replaces Ricky Woods, who spent two seasons at Starkville and led it to the 2015 MHSAA Class 6A State championship. He resigned in November after not making the playoffs and decided to return to South Panola, where he will coach the school's football team.
Search committee member Jay Perry said Wednesday there were more than 28 people who applied for the job and at least another dozen who inquired about the position. Jones said he experienced all kind of emotions when he applied for the job.
"I thought I had a chance if they just really, really evaluated me as a coach and just my body of work versus me being a young guy without a whole bunch of experience on the 6A level," Jones said. "To me, it's better when you are able to come from a smaller foundation or a smaller situation where you had less and you had to make the most out of it."
A Macon native, he played at Noxubee County High and at Jackson State. He made the rosters of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings and the Seattle Seahawks but didn't see any playing time. He opted to play in the Arena Football League and the Canadian Football League before returning to Mississippi and becoming a coach for M.C. Miller from 2010-12 at Louisville High. He was then hired by Kemper County and led them to 9-4 record in 2013. The Wildcats finished 1-10 in 2012.
Although the Yellow Jackets haven't gotten an opportunity to talk to Jones in depth, they are excited about what Jones, 34, brings to the table.
"I heard he's a real good person and real energetic," Starkville High rising senior wide receiver Cameron Gardner said. "I'm really excited. He said that he wants us to be back on top. It's very exciting because he can teach, not only me, but all of us what it takes to go to the next level."
Gardner had 21 catches for 213 yards and three touchdowns as a junior.
Smith said Wednesday that one of the things that stood about Jones during the interview process was how much he seemed genuinely concerned about the student-athletes' well-being. Although winning is a big part of Jones' mind-set, Smith felt Jones would do the things on and off the field to help the players succeed at football and at life.
Jones feels his age will be able to relate well to young men. He said he understands what they are going through and tries to find common ground with them whenever he can.
"It is a new generation of players, and you've got to have a new generation-type of coach or adapt to the new generation," Jones said. "I'm a young guy, but it's different from even when I played. Just to be able to relate and to kind of speak the same language. I do listen to rap music, so I can understand what they're talking about and they can't talk over my head. I know some of the slang they're saying. It's going to be a great, great thing for me to be able to help these kids along the way because I've been there. I know the process of what it takes to get to the next level."
Jones said he doesn't know who will be on his staff. He wants to see which Starkville coaches want to stick around and what coaches from Kemper County he can bring along.
"I want to put the best possible staff together," Jones said. "You're only as good as your staff, so I've got to make sure I do it right. I want this to be a great program, so I've got to get some great coaches in place."
Although he establish Kemper County High as a title contender, Jones felt like he couldn't pass up on the opportunity at Starkville High.
"I'm just blessed with the opportunity," Jones said. "I spent a long time over at Kemper -- building a great program over there, so I hate to leave those guys, but it's hard to pass up on a job like this. Starkville has a great tradition, great community, great athletes, and school system. I think it will be a great spot for me and my family, and I'm looking forward to it. I'm just ready to get to work and put my blueprint on it."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Ben Wait on Twitter @bcwait
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.
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