‘Hard to leave my kids’: West takes job across river

Published 6:42 pm Sunday, April 30, 2023

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VIDALIA — Butterflies bubble up in Josh West’s stomach each morning as he crosses the Mississippi River bridge from his home in Natchez to his new job in Vidalia. West said he had not felt the same excitement since he lost his first championship game as head coach of the Natchez Middle School team. 

“I want to prove to people I can do this,” he said. “I want to prove that I can lead a program and develop good citizens. Henry Garner was one of my influences. He taught me a lot and I have the utmost respect for him.” 

West’s uncle Charles Johnson was a coach in Vidalia and is another motivation, as Vidalia’s junior high gym was named after Johnson. 

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West was raised in Vidalia and will return to be the Vikings head coach for next football season. He coached at Natchez High as an assistant and was a successful middle school head coach winning five Southwest Mississippi Middle School championships with Natchez  in seven years. 

West is the 10th coach in Vidalia history and replaces Mike Norris who retired at the end of this past football season. Vidalia’s offensive coordinator Josh Loy landed at Cathedral where he is an alum and had dreamed of coaching. 

West had applied for the head coaching job at Natchez High School when Steve Davis was hired in 2021. He had also applied for the coaching job at Vidalia when Norris was hired. This week has been an emotional one as leaving the Bulldog program was not an easy decision. 

“I’m thankful to Natchez for giving me the opportunity to grow and learn how to be a coach. I’m grateful for my time there,” West said. “It was hard to leave my kids. I lost my uncle last week and had to tell my kids that I’ve coached since sixth grade. It was not easy but it makes me feel better to see the excitement over here. It is a beautiful thing knowing there are people here wanting you to thrive and believe in you.” 

Natchez head coachDavis said he is always happy when coaches are able to move up. West was striving for the opportunity to coach a varsity team and now has the chance to run his own program. 

Davis moved West to the varsity coaching staff full time when he was hired in 2021 so a head coach for the middle school team is already in place. West took big steps over the past year, Davis said. 

“I wish him nothing but the best,” Davis said. “I think he has prepared himself for the role. I am sure he has taken lessons from previous coaches to prepare for now. It now comes down to what I think is the hardest part. The on the job training. Everything falls on you. You are the face of a whole program. I am extremely happy for him. I told him I learned a lot from coaches along the journey. My door is always open to him.” 

Athletic Director Damus Smith and Principal Bernie Cooley have welcomed West into the Viking family this week, West said. Vidalia is where he first watched the game of football, cheering on his brother from the sidelines while Dee Faircloth was coaching. “Life has come full circle,” he said. 

The transition has been a little easier for West. He said the guys are familiar with his name because they talk to players at Natchez or follow him on social media. Familiarity has helped him take command in the room and start working on coaching the kids. 

He hopes to bring a level of discipline learned at Natchez High School. West’s time coaching the middle school team taught him to know a little bit of everything about each position, especially to help kids who might not have played football before. 

“I learned everyone is an individual. They learn at their own pace. When you build relationships with kids it garners the type of situation where they play harder for you,” West said. “All of the guys I coached in soccer were football players first and wanted to come out because I taught them. They wanted to follow.” 

He said most of his success comes from building relationships with the kids. West dreams big and would like to compete for a state championship at the SuperDome in New Orleans. Stanley Smith gave hope to Ferriday by taking his team to a state title. 

One of Vidalia’s mantras this year will be to “trust the mantra and fear no limits,” West said. He wants to make the sport fun and something people will take pride in. 

“I want to have kids who are natural leaders, will support the youth and mentor the guys,” he said. “They can have the same high standards. I want to bridge the youth leagues to where we have a system in place so they know everything by high school. I want to bridge the whole community and invest back. I believe when you do good you get good.”