Hiring of Lance Reed has Bulldogs hungry for success

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 31, 2004

Kenny Perry is a football coach. But after the job he did at Sam Houston High School in Arlington, Texas, and the job he just started at nearby Haltom, he may become known for more than that.

He may become known as a rebuilder.

In this profession, you’ll find some coaches who make a practice of moving from place to place. It’s not that they leave on bad terms &045; they enter, build the program, reap the benefits and move to a similar situation.

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Perry did that at Sam Houston with Lance Reed, a defensive assistant recently named head coach at Natchez High.

&uot;We had to basically start from scratch,&uot; Perry said. &uot;Like I tell people, it was teaching kids how to walk. We had a lot of athletes and kids who could do some things, but they didn’t know how to play football.&uot;

Reed was right there in the thick of it, teaching and coaching along the way to a team that was known for having talent but underachieving. The Texas went 1-9 their first year under Perry, but the next year they went 7-4 and made the playoffs.

It was a process that took hard work, discipline and perseverance &045; one that Reed faces on his own now with a downtrodden Natchez High program.

But just like Perry believed, any struggling program can be turned around.

&uot;It was a matter of a group of guys who went into it with a plan, work hard and things started panning out,&uot; said Reed, a 1991 Natchez High graduate. &uot;With a good coaching staff, kids kind of feed off of that. Hopefully we’ll get similar results. Sam Houston had a reputation as a school that had great athletes but couldn’t get over the hump in football.&uot;

As Reed met with the returning and incoming players on Friday, he officially began the task at hand of bringing Natchez High back to a level of prominence it’s briefly enjoyed in the last 15 years.

Turning around a program is never an easy job, but the coach who did it at Sam Houston at the Class 5A level cannot find someone else better to do it here than Reed.

&uot;I’ve been coaching a long time, and he’s one of the best I’ve ever seen,&uot; Perry said. &uot;He’s great with kids. He single-handedly turned around our academics problem at that school. Lance is a teacher first. He teaches kids how to do it the right way. I can’t tell you how much dignity and class that guy has about him.

&uot;You see people in this profession, and I’ve seen good ones and I’ve seen bad ones. I don’t know if a coach I’ve coached with had as much influence over kids as he had. The way he carries himself &045; that’s what high school kids need.&uot;

Therein lies the challenge. Reed takes over a program that hasn’t had a winning season in six years, finished 2-31 the last three seasons under predecessor James Denson and was the worst team in all of Class 5A last season.

&uot;I’ve never backed away from anything,&uot; Reed said. &uot;That’s what life is all about. I look forward to the challenge. I think it will be a good opportunity.&uot;

State of the program

You may be hard-pressed to find someone more passionate right now about Bulldog football on Friday nights than Michael Winn Sr. He’s been there in recent seasons and continues to support the program while his son, Michael Winn Jr., has completed his playing days and is attending Xavier University of New Orleans.

And Winn is awfully candid about what’s wrong with the program. That’s only because he wants to see the Bulldogs win more than anything.

&uot;Where should we start?&uot; said Winn, a member of the NHS Touchdown Club. &uot;Be fair. Our kids are ready. They’re ready to work hard. They’ve been working hard the last several years. We’ve got a lot of kids on the team who have gone through a lot. They want to win and will do whatever it takes.&uot;

Winn has his ideas of what needs to be corrected, just as most people do. The position of head football coach at Natchez High is perhaps the most visible coaching position in the Miss-Lou and southwest Mississippi with NHS having one of the highest enrollments among schools in the state.

But the football team hasn’t parlayed that into success on Friday nights, winning just two games in the last three seasons by a combined score of three points &045; 14-12 over Vicksburg in 2003 and 15-14 over Petal in 2001. The 0-11 campaign in 2002 was the first winless season by a public school in Natchez.

In 2003 the Bulldogs were outscored 78-405. The points allowed were there most by any 5A, 4A or 3A school.

&uot;I felt like it was the coaching staff and the players,&uot; said Anthony Strauder, a defensive lineman in 2003 who signed to play at Mississippi State. &uot;I went into every game expecting to win. When we won the Vicksburg game, people acted like they were surprised. I felt like we had a lot of talent but didn’t work together enough. I feel like the young guys, they’ll do a much better job of that.&uot;

Strauder is visible evidence of the program having talent. The 6-4, 285-pound tackle initially committed to Southern Miss before signing with Sylvester Croom’s Bulldogs and was considered the No. 22 overall prospect in the state by insiders.com.

The Bulldogs also defensive back Michael Williams sign with Southern University and a number of others sign to play in the junior college ranks.

&uot;If you go back and look at it, even though we’re not winning games, a lot of kids have gone on (to play college ball),&uot; NHS activities director Robert Cade said. &uot;I think some of the kids see that, but I think it takes a special kind of person to come out. It truly takes a man to do well when things aren’t going well.&uot;

The new coach has sparked optimism in a program it hasn’t had in a while. The Bulldogs just put the wraps on a somewhat vanilla spring training since a new coach was not in place to put in a system. The 40 or so players out (freshmen did not report) concentrated on blocking, tackling and other fundamentals.

Everything else will begin in August when two-a-days begin under Reed.

&uot;We really want to see togetherness,&uot; Winn said. &uot;A team that’s unified, a team that’s working together and working as a team. That’s something we haven’t seen. He needs to have high expectations for these kids because I believe they will truly rise to the challenge.&uot;

The new coach

When football powerhouses North Natchez and South Natchez came together to form Natchez High, Reed was right there in the mix. Everyone in the state predicted the Bulldogs to be the next big powerhouse in high school football, and they did make the playoffs their first season in 1989.

Reed starred for the Bulldogs those first three years and earned all-district each year before signing to play at Louisiana Tech.

&uot;You know the old saying, ‘His bark was bigger than his bite?’&uot; former NHS assistant Bert Smith said. &uot;Well, his bite was bigger than his bark. He’s a very intense person. He’s all business. He didn’t back down from a running back.

&uot;We were playing down at McComb, and their head coach came on the field. Back then, it was bad blood between Natchez and McComb. Lance was hurting some of their running backs, and he cussed Lance on the field. I think he was trying to get in Lance’s head, and he did. Lance started demolishing them in the second half.&uot;

Reed played those first years under head coach Chris Calcote, who left after a 1-9 campaign in 1991 and is now the athletic director at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Reed then earned accolades at Tech, including Defensive MVP and All-Louisiana selection in 1993 and team captain in 1995.

&uot;Lance was a great kid with great character,&uot; said Calcote, a Franklin County native. &uot;He was a real hard-nosed competitor, very disciplined and very coachable. I didn’t know what he was going to do, but I could see him being successful in whatever endeavor he chose to be in. I’m excited for Lance. He’s very deserving, and I’m sure his parents are very proud.&uot;

Reed spent one school year teaching advanced math in Vidalia before meeting up with a representative of the Arlington (Texas) Independent School District at a job fair in Ruston. She was looking for coaches and virtually hired Reed on the spot to join the staff at Sam Houston High School, and he served as linebackers coach and taught geometry.

During his stint there he kept up with his hometown and heard they were looking for a head coach. Having never applied for a head coaching position before, Reed threw his hat in the ring.

The Natchez-Adams Board of Trustees hired him May 9.

&uot;I came out to Texas because I wanted to get into coaching and teaching,&uot; Reed said. &uot;I’ve heard from people I haven’t talked to in a while. It feels good. It’s good to have people to get excited.&uot;

The decision has people excited, but one guy in Texas is just tickled for him.

&uot;I’ve told Lance, ‘You’re a young, educated black man, and that’s what this society needs,’&uot; Perry said. &uot;I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t have them as one of the best teams in the state.&uot;

Blue print for turnaround

Everyone has their opinion of what’s wrong with Natchez High football and what needs to be done. But here is Elbert &uot;Mo&uot; Lyles, who had success as head coach at Wilkinson County, went 7-25 as head coach of the Bulldogs but has Amite County on the way up now as head coach at the Liberty school.

Lyles left in favor of head coach James Denson after the 2000 season.

&uot;I’d say the community needs to get behind him,&uot; Lyles said. &uot;He needs about four or five years to get that situation (straight). I think sometimes change is good. The kids &045; by him coming in, I think he’ll bring some interest to it and get the kids motivated again. When the kids are in the situation they’re in, motivation plays a big part, too. Really, I don’t think it has much to do with X’s and O’s.&uot;

That was the mindset of Robert Raines, who took over in 1994 in a similar situation and basically gutted the old way of thinking before leading the Bulldogs to the South State championship in 1997.

Raines went so far as to change the school fight song and the uniforms to resemble Notre Dame.

&uot;I’ll say this and mean this totally because this is what I’m all about,&uot; Reed said, &uot;the first thing I’ll improve is their character. Being a good person is what’s going to make them good players and good people. Good standing in academics is important. I’m big on mentoring. I’ve got a lot of good ideas that I think can really help.&uot;

Although it’s been 15 years since the two powerhouses combined into one, there are plenty of folks who would love to see those days again. Reed remembers those days fondly &045; the annual North-South matchup was always a war &045; and returning to those times is not unthinkable.

Natchez was the home of a number of star players who enjoyed success at the next level, including Hugh Green and Danny Knight.

&uot;We had some big-time players,&uot; said Calcote, who had a stint at North Natchez. &uot;I think the talent level has fallen off some, but it’s still good. If somebody stays in the program a couple of years, I think somebody can wake up a sleeping giant. By now the community knows they have one Natchez High. Winning breeds winning, and losing breeds losing. You’ve got to get that confidence level back up and show what you can do.&uot;

The buzz has already taken off with Reed’s hiring with his history on the football field, connections in the community and family. With some success on the football field, the support could reach new heights if the Bulldogs finish .500 this fall.

Natchez High has had just three winning seasons since cosolidation and just as many playoff appearances &045; stats that pale in comparison to the exploits of North Natchez and South Natchez.

&uot;I’m very optimistic,&uot; Winn said. &uot;I’m hoping he’s ready to be a part of the community. If he comes in enthusiastically, I think everything will fall into place. He’s going to have a lot of support. The Touchdown Club is really excited and ready to put their support behind him.&uot;