Facing an uphill battle to restore Columbus’ rich football heritage, newly hired Joshua Pulphus is ready to get the Falcons’ football program back to respectability. Photo by: Ledrico Isaac/Special to The Dispatch
March 10, 2019 12:47:39 AM
Under new head coach Joshua Pulphus, there's no way to know yet what offensive and defensive schemes the Columbus High School Falcons will run this fall.
But if Pulphus' mentor, West Point head coach Chris Chambless, taught him anything, the character of the 2019 Falcons is already all but certain.
"They will be a physical, gritty team," said Chambless, who has twice hired Pulphus as an assistant with his storied Green Wave juggernaut, most recently as the tight ends/offensive line coach in 2018. "Josh will find a system that suits his talent. But no matter what, they're going to block and they're going to tackle. If the kids stick with him, and the community and the administration back him, things will change for that program quick."
"Change" is nothing new for Falcon football. When the school district's board of trustees hired Pulphus Thursday evening, he became the program's third head coach in as many seasons. The changing faces, though, have produced stagnant, frustrating results, with Columbus managing a meager 2-20 record over the last two seasons - including a winless 2018 under first-year coach Eric Rice, who was ousted so abruptly he wasn't even on the sidelines for the team's final game.
Instead Pulphus and Columbus Athletic Director Joe Garrett hope this change will bring stability to the program on and off the field.
"What struck me is he wants to build a foundation for winning seasons that will focus on students' academic and athletic achievement," said Garrett, who is completing his first year as AD. "He's a cordial person who can build relationships in the community, but he's very firm, especially when it comes to the rules. He's not just somebody who will implement the rules. He will also demonstrate them."
Pulphus said he knows the uncertainty he faces in his new position. But he feels he's equal to the task.
"Stability is very important, and with the recent turnover in coaches in Columbus, I know it's a huge issue," he said. "Sometimes, you've got to take a leap of faith, trust God, trust your abilities and trust the leaders around you.
"I trust this administration is wanting to turn the program around the right way for the right reasons," he added. "I'm excited, and so looking forward to, helping bring the pride back to Columbus football."
An 'everywhere' man
Pulphus, 34, is no stranger to coaching football in North Mississippi. This won't even be his first stop in Columbus.
The Okolona native started his coaching career in 2008 as a running backs/defensive backs coach at Aberdeen.
From there, he went to West Point, coaching running backs under Chambless from 2010-12, then was co-defensive coordinator for a season in Columbus under head coach Tony Stanford. He later spent two years in New Hope (2014-15) and one in Starkville (2016) as defensive coordinator. Pulphus earned his first head coaching job in Kemper County in 2017, where his team went 3-8 in his only season at the helm before he returned to West Point.
"Moving up in this profession is tough," Pulphus said. "You work hard for the opportunity to be a head coach, and those opportunities don't come often. So I'm very thankful for this one."
Pulphus knows he faces an uphill battle building a winner at Columbus, which last made the playoffs in 2016.
At first glance, dropping from 6A to 5A in the Mississippi High School Athletics Association classifications could seem to make that feat easier. But, as Pulphus points out, the "reward" for that step down is playing in the same region as West Point, winner of three consecutive Class 5A titles, and another perennial powerhouse, Lafayette County.
"It's going to be an uphill battle, one we'll have to fight to win day-by-day," Pulphus said. "From my time in Columbus before, those kids were resilient, so I don't think these kids will shy away from the challenge ahead. ... Looking at the film, I know the talent and potential is there."
Making the most of that talent starts immediately. And Pulphus' "new normal," at least for the rest of the spring, will be teaching Mississippi studies and world geography at West Point High during the school day - where he will complete his 2018-19 teaching contract - then driving as many evenings as possible to Columbus to start getting his Falcons in shape.
"We're about to love the weight room," Pulphus said. "We've got to get bigger, stronger, faster. There's no time to waste because right now, we're behind. While we're establishing an offseason weight and conditioning program, everybody else is already looking toward spring football practice. So we have to catch up big time."
The Chambless effect
Pulphus regards Chambless, who has led West Point for 20 years, as the man who took a young, green-behind-the-ears assistant coach and "showed me the ropes."
"A lot of times, it was his paying attention to the little things others might overlook," Pulphus recalled. "That was everything from the grass-cutting to making sure all the helmets fit right. ... Every day, in just how he carries himself, he puts his trust in his players and coaches, and he stresses 'taking care of business now.'"
Chambless, for his part, remembers the ambitious Pulphus taking great lengths to learn how to do things right.
"Even if it was 110 degrees in summertime, he was right there with me asking questions and soaking in whatever he could," Chambless said. "As a coach, he's extremely coachable himself. That's what you have to be.
"Columbus is getting a coach with dedication and passion for the kids and athletics in general," he added. "It will take an army (community, school leaders, players and coaches) to turn it around, but he will accept the challenge. ... He's going to want to win right away."
Chambless, though, plans to keep winning. But he welcomes the prospect of a competitive rivalry with one of his proteges that will begin when the two meet this fall.
"It's going to be fun," Pulphus said. "But in order to be the best, you have to beat the best. You don't get into coaching to be afraid of competition."
No matter the score, or the winner, Chambless said he'll always be a willing resource for advising his former assistant if asked.
"He'll be calling. We'll be talking. He knows that," Chambless said.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.
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