By DANNY P. SMITH
Those individuals who follow the progress of Starkville High School baseball knew what they wanted in a head baseball coach.
In his casual and candid conversation with baseball boosters and parents of future players in the program, SHS Principal Keith Fennell didn’t have a specific person in mind at the time when he asked them specifically what an ideal candidate would be.
“Early on, no one knew the name. On two occasions, many characteristics and qualities were mentioned,” Fennell said. “In two individual situations, they said ‘I like that Neshoba guy’ and neither of them knew his name.”
That “Neshoba guy” is Brian Jones, who was introduced Thursday morning as the new head coach of the Yellowjackets during a press conference at the school library.
After 12 seasons as the head coach at Neshoba Central, Jones agreed to become the leader of the SHS program on Monday, was approved by the Starkville school board on Wednesday and welcomed aboard on Thursday.
Jones takes over for Danny Carlisle, who is retiring after the end of the season. Carlisle served the school system for 35 years and the last 29 years as head baseball coach of the Jackets.
While growing up in Neshoba County, Jones because aware of the reputation of Starkville under Carlisle.
“When I was in school (at Neshoba Central), this was the Mecca,” Jones said of the Jackets. “It was a job where coach Carlisle was supposedly retiring for I don’t know how many years, and I kept thinking (what if).
“The timing was right and I’ve had opportunities to go other places in the past, but just didn’t feel it was the right time or felt led that way. Our kids were younger and they are older now. They are all comfortable and excited about the move.”
Jones’ children Tanner, Tucker and Emma and wife Missy were present at Thursday’s press conference.
After a process that began with 28 candidates and was narrowed to seven finalists, SHS athletic director Stan Miller said Jones had all of the qualities that stood out.
“It was a tough decision, no doubt about it,” Miller said. “I thought we had some great candidates that brought so much experience to the table, but this gentlemen just rose to the top of all of them. He brings a great record, hard work, character and is just a class individual.
“(The players) are going to work hard for him, but I see hard work and I see facilities — (the) things that Danny has done — and we want to enhance those things. I am totally for this guy.”
Fennell saw in Jones a man that could develop a fundamentally sound, well-prepared and disciplined team and do it with energy, enthusiasm and excitement.
“He rose above the rest,” Fennell said.
The Jackets feel like they have hit a home run with the hire of Jones, but he believes winning will take place by using the short game.
“If you don’t enjoy the bunting and stealing, hitting and running and squeeze bunting, then you are probably not going to enjoy watching us,” Jones said. “There’s going to be a transition phase and they’ll need to buy into that and I think they will.
“Rather than sitting back to get one or two hits an inning, they like the movement and putting pressure on other people. It causes mistakes for other teams so they’ll buy into that. I think the athletes here will play into that role as well.”
When it comes to his philosophy, Jones said it’s important to have coaches that are committed to hard work, players that are also committed and buy into the system, a supportive administration and the involvement of the parents and community.
Jones served as the assistant coach at South Leake for one season before returning to Neshoba Central under current East Webster coach Wes Johnson.
Even though leaving home can be considered tough, Jones said the time is right to make such a move.
“There are a lot of positives about staying at home, but there are negatives as well,” Jones said. “This was an opportunity too good to pass up. I want to use the resources around and coach Carlisle is one of those resources.
“From the baseball standpoint, the schools and community, everything is falling into place perfectly and reassures us that this is where we need to be as a family and me individually in a coach.”