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Pete begins head coach responsibilities at Natchez High School

Thomas Graning | The Natchez Democrat — Melvin Pete Jr. is the newest head football coach at Natchez High School. Pete was introduced as head coach last Thursday.
Thomas Graning | The Natchez Democrat — Melvin Pete Jr. is the newest head football coach at Natchez High School. Pete was introduced as head coach last Thursday.

NATCHEZ — In the words of Natchez High School Principal Willis Smith, new Natchez head coach Melvin Pete Jr. began his new job by “hitting the ground running.”

After Smith was hired last Thursday and met with the team and suggested changes to administrators on Monday, Pete will spend the majority of today interviewing coaches and trying to piece together his staff. Former assistant coaches James Coleman and Steve Davis chose not to participate in the interviews and will not rejoin the team.

That doesn’t keep the clock from ticking for Pete, and he feels the urgency to complete his staff. After all, the season is only one month away. The allotted time frame is partly the reason Smith hired Pete in the first place.

“We wanted to turn our program around, and he’s turned around Central High School’s (Tuscaloosa) program before,” Smith said. “We needed someone who could come in and put a product on the field that can compete in a short amount of time.”

Pete, who’s coached at both the college and high school level in Mississippi and Alabama, referred to himself as a “base-zone guy.” Spoken like a true offensive coordinator, Pete said he could make the right tweaks offensively without wasting his current players’ summer that was used learning an up-tempo spread style. After sizing his players up and interacting with them Monday morning, Pete sat at the top of the bleachers at Tom F. Williams Memorial Stadium already plotting some of the tweaks, not changes, he’ll make.

“Let’s just put it like this — I would say they’re a spread team, but at the same time, the difference in me is: what if I put the guy in the Pistol?” Pete asked as if he were designing the offense in front of him with his hands motioning above the field. “He’s been offset, and with him being offset, the defense gets an opportunity to line up how they want to line up.

“At the same time, if I line someone up in the Pistol, will they be offset? I hope so because it makes it easier for me to call plays. I’m balanced.”

Following father’s footsteps

Developing schemes and making tweaks began long ago for Pete, who walked in the shadow of his father, Melvin Pete Sr., literally and figuratively on the sidelines at Jackson State University. Pete’s father coached as an assistant at Jackson State University for 25 years.

Pete thrived in the shadow, designing plays and learning what separates a great player from the pack. He identified how to act like a coach and set out to follow in his father’s footsteps, all the while trying to create his own name.

“I got to a point where I didn’t want to be my father’s name but I wanted to make my own, so I set out to coach in Alabama,” Pete said.

Alabama’s Georgiana High School served as Pete’s first head coaching gig, where he drew a .500 record in his first year. He then became the quarterbacks coach for Bethune-Cookman University, before becoming offensive coordinator at Stillman College in 2000. Success followed him there in the form of an 8-2 record and a 39 points per game statline for his high-flying offense. But his termination came shortly after. To the shock of Pete, he was told, “you scored too many points” before receiving the boot. No personal vendettas were had, Pete said, just a defense that grew tired of staying on the field.

“They might have had problems but I didn’t,” Pete said. “It threw me off. It actually shook up my ego a little bit.”

A job opened for Pete in Selma, Ala., and soon after, Pete would make his way to Central High School in Tuscaloosa, where Pete amassed a 33-23 record and an Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 4A state title in 2007. It was quite a turnaround from Central High’s 1-9 record posted in 2004.

Unfortunately, family issues forced Pete to resign in 2010.

“Sometimes you have to be a son first,” Pete said. “My mom got real sick, and she ended up passing. My dad had some Alzheimer’s problems. I needed to be back home, so I moved back to Jackson.”

Pete spent the first part of 2010 taking care of his father. Pete bought a Rottweiler, and it didn’t take long for the puppy to bond with Melvin Sr. A transformation seemed to happen for his father following his relationship with the Rottweiler.

“Now all of a sudden, everything started to come back for him,” Pete said. “He talked me into getting out of the house. What I think happened was one of his ex players, who ended up being a superintendent in Gentry, called him and asked if I wanted to be a head coach.”

Pete then went to coach at Gentry High School in Indiola for three years before his prolonged coaching path took another detour.

Simulating his coaching style

“Sometimes people want to do better things,” Pete said.

That’s the simplified explanation as to why Pete chose to apply for the vacant Natchez head coaching position.

Now that he’s been given the job, he has given the former coaching staff an opportunity to contribute, chosen to allow second chances to players who might have made mistakes in the past and began establishing hopeful long term relationships with young men he’ll coach.

Also, he plans on winning football games. But in order to do that, Pete has to instill his philosophy first and foremost.

“We have to take the word ‘cheat’ out of our vocabulary,” Pete said. “I have to teach young men how to be young men.”

Pete is an offensive-minded coach that would like to hire a coach to run the defense in 2014. He’s also hoping to bring some of his former staff members, like his offensive line coach at Gentry, to Natchez should teaching openings match the coaches’ teacher qualifications. And for those potential new defensive hires that try and use fancy terminology to try to outwit Pete in the interviews today, well, Pete said they would be barking up the wrong tree.

“Let me say this — for all of the guys interviewing, you’re not going to be able to walk in and Buffalo me and make me think I don’t know about defense,” Pete said. “Being an offensive minded guy, you have to study defense. Did you know of those 15 victories during our state championship run, seven of them were shutouts?”

Pete likes to use odd and even fronts on defense, and he classified himself as a multiple-offense type of coach.

Once he has his staff complete, Pete plans on sitting down with the retained members of the coaching staff and talking to them about how to implement his schemes and make the tweaks necessary to not overcomplicate and confuse the players on the roster.

But football is football to Pete, and whatever Pete has in front of him is exactly how he plans on piecing together his offensive unit in a month’s time.

“If I go into a place and I find a guy that’s a thumper, then yeah, we’ll run more two-back stuff,” Pete said. “But if I can’t find that thumper and I’ve got a receiver over here that needs to get the ball, then we’ll run more spread stuff. We’ll run variations of everything.”

Pete said he will demand leadership, push academics and encourage his players to make the right choices, establishing a bond that will hopefully last like his bonds with former players in the past.

“My old players still call me and basically talk about, ‘hey, I’m about to get a divorce,’ or ‘hey, I’m about to have my first child,’” Pete said.

Pete’s connection with his former players was one of the many qualities that sold Smith on the hire. Pete’s other qualities have Smith hopeful for a championship run at Natchez in the near future.

“He’s a strong disciplinarian that’s impressed me with his procedures,” Smith said. “I think he’s one of the few coaches that can win a championship in two different states.”