• John Macon Gillespie

Q&A with Mooreville HC John Keith

Late last November the Mooreville football program called home one of their own to be the new head coach after the school’s career leader in wins, Kevin Austin, decided to step down. Former Tupelo offensive coordinator John Keith would be the man to lead the Troopers.

Keith was not only born and raised in Mooreville, but graduated from Mooreville High in 1997. After starring on Friday nights as a Trooper, he played three seasons at Ole Miss. Since then he not only been an assistant for the Golden Wave, but also at Southaven, Amory and Shannon.

All of his hard work, dedication and preparation have brought him back home, where he’s proud to lead a program that made him into the person he is today. He’s looking to implement his own model of the ideal program to help mold young guys into successful men, as well.

The following is a question and answer exchange in which Keith agreed to hold with SES Mississippi.

JLM: How is it going? With getting settled in and adjusted to a new role, but at a place you’re quite familiar with.

Keith: “It’s been exciting. I graduated from Mooreville almost 20 years ago(class of 1997), but it has always been home to me. It was great to be able to go ahead and start at Mooreville after the break(for Spring semester) so that I could be there every day. Any time you take a new job, you want to evaluate as much as you can to determine what needs to be the focus moving forward. I’m extremely excited about this spring and getting to see our guys in pads.”

JLM: What are your initial impressions from what you’ve seen?

Keith: “They had a young team last year that showed flashes in several games. We return some guys who played last year and have been able to get some guys out who haven’t been playing. Their willingness to work each day has been great.”

JLM: What direction do you envision taking your first team as a head coach? What are some of your goals, standards, etc.?

Keith: “Firs, we want our guys to success in all aspects of their lives. we stress academics and the importance of making good choices in their lives.”

“I want our program built on four things: physicality, aggressiveness, accountability and competitiveness. If we do those four things, we believe we can accomplish our goal of success on and off the field.”

JLM: What is your idea of how the ideal program is run?

Keith: “The ideal program is when the players and coaches take pride in being part of something that they understand is bigger than them as individuals. We want our administration, faculty and community to understand that we play for each other.”

“I’ve been extremely fortunate to work for successful head coaches who have helped me grow as a coach. Ed Rich, Chad Cook, Pat Byrd and Trent Hammond, all have helped me tremendously in my career. I’m thankful to have worked and learned from each of them. Trent especially taught me a lot about being a head coach. He allowed me to really develop and take on additional roles. Roles that most assistant coaches don’t have the chance to take part in until they become a head coach.”

JLM: What are some specific things you’ve learned from each of those guys?

Keith: “Ed and I met recently to discuss schemes. Ive stayed really close to the staff at Southaven. So the last three years at Tupelo meant we haven’t been able to get together much. He really helped me develop my offensive identity.”

“Chad taught me how to deal with different personalities on a team. He also taught me about game-planning and prep for our opponent.”

“Pat did a great job of running an organized program, having a plan and process for everything. He was also the first person to give me a chance to be an offensive coordinator, which I’m still thankful for.”

“Trent allowed me to truly discover who I am as a coach. He involved me in decisions at all levels and helped me to learn more than just the stuff that happens on the field. He allowed me to do some things offensively that most people wouldn’t. He was always willing to discuss new thoughts and ideas. I can’t say enough about how much I respect him and how thankful I am for all he did for me professionally and personally.”

JLM: What will be the focus when spring practice gets started?

Keith: “This spring we are searching for players willing to compete every play. We are going to do a ton of competitive drills to see who will respond to overcome adversity and who will fold. We are also going to search for as many players as we can to determine where we can put our best on the field. We will also work on installing our base offense and defense.”

JLM: When trying to convince a player at your school who is not playing football, to come out and play, what is your sale’s pitch?

Keith: “I want them to understand that playing high school football is extremely rewarding. The chance to play college football is greater because of the number of scholarships available for that sport over other sports. I want our guys to play as many sports that they are able to play. But I want guys to know that for us to succeed, we need all the athletes in the school playing that can play.”

JLM: With a group of your guys coming to compete at the Fortius Project, how do you feel it could benefit them most?

Keith: “The chance for them to compete with other players from the area is huge. Beyond that, it will help our guys who are getting ready to go to some camps this summer get a better idea of what they should expect. Hopefully it will help some our guys get some attention.”

JLM: What is the reputation for your program that you are trying to create?

Keith: “We want to be physical and play with unmatched effort. We want people to say we are a hard-nosed group of kids that compete every play.”

JLM: Lastly, how does your playing career affect your relationship with the game still today?

Keith: “I was extremely lucky to get to play college football for a few years. I played at Ole Miss from 1997 to 1999. My career was ended from an injury, but I have never regretted playing. Football prepared me for life. I experienced things during football that I would have never encountered in any other way.”

“I know this game provided an opportunity for me in my life. The relationships, the competitiveness and the experiences are all something that keep me motivated.”

“I just hope I can positively impact young people and help them develop into young men. Regardless of what each person’s individual path may be, experiences, relationships and the lessons will be what there after it’s all gone. I want my players to know I loved them when they played and I love them now. We will always be family.”

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