It may have seemed strange for him to have left a job where he led a team to a 12-2 record and a spot in the semifinals of the Class 3A playoffs, not to mention the comfort of the area where he grew up, but Hart felt like leaving Franklin County for Lafayette was the move he needed to make.
“My wife told me to do it,” Hart joked just before recalling the real answer as to why he left South Mississippi for the hills of Lafayette County. “It was a good move for my family. That’s the reason. It had nothing to do with football. It all started with my family. I’ve been glad about (the move) since the first year got over. The first year was tough because you’re coming in here and transitioning but since then, it’s been good. We’ve had some ups, we’ve had some downs, but it’s been really good.”
LHS athletics director Jeff Nelson said he and then-principal Adam Pugh were impressed with Hart for a number of reasons, not just his style on the football field, and that’s why he was offered the position left void by Scott Samsel.
“When Adam Pugh and I sat down to start this process, we had to make sure that every avenue this guy did well. From the public relations, to the X’s and O’s, to the motivation, academics and other sports. We wanted the total package and weren’t going to settle for anything less,” Nelson said about Hart, who beat out 35 other candidates who applied for the job. “When we contacted Coach Hart, we felt like he would definitely be in our top three people. He just ended up being the right guy. He answered everything right and seemed to be the guy who could get done what we wanted to get done and move forward.”
Hart went 29-8 in his three seasons at Franklin County and was 52-21 overall as a head coach before he arrived at LHS. He billed himself as a “defensive minded” coach who thought he would employ an eight-man front to stop teams and install some sort of an exciting offense to score points.
He got advice from coaches such as then-Water Valley coach Trent Hammond, who opposes Hart Friday in the 2011 Class 4A North Half title game, about the LHS program and the amount of talent that was on the roster at the time. Everything seemed to point toward the move being a success, even if Hart didn’t quite expect to win a 4A title.
“You never expect it, but it hasn’t just happened. Everything gelled right, players, coaches. You got to have good work habits, attitudes. We feel like we win games January through July. A lot of people feel like they win games in the fall, we feel like we win them January through July,” said Hart, who is 78-16 in six-plus seasons at LHS. “Coach (Dennis) Robbins does a good job with our strength program and we have a balance all the way through. When people aren’t working, we’re working. When you play 32 ball games in two years, your players are more experienced. That’s just more games they’ve played, more preparation, so they’re getting better.”
More than just football
Eric Robertson, the Commodores’ defensive coordinator, was an original member of Hart’s staff. Robertson, who came to LHS from Oxford, said he remembers hitting it off with Hart when he came for his interview.
“When I came over and talked to him, he and I talked about football for about two or three minutes and the rest was about life and relationships. I like him because it’s not just about football. Our kids hear about life and character and Christian values, just rock-solid stuff that is going to help them not only with football, but in life as well. Football is real important to him, but these kids are more important to him than football and he always put his family and these kids before football,” Robertson said. “The other thing I like is his organization. We know what to expect, we know how (practice) is going to be. I don’t have to think about anything but football. He makes things for us coaches easy because he makes things organized. We have everything we want and if we need it, he finds a way to get it.
“We have a lot of great coaches in the state of Mississippi and those coaches are great people and he falls right into that mix. I think our kids know what to expect, our coaches know what to expect. They respect him,” Robertson added. “They bought into what he tells them and they’ve bought into the way we do things. Ultimately the real reason he’s had so much success is he’s a man of faith, he puts God first in his life, and I personally think that’s a lot of reason for his success.”
Robertson said that it would be hard for him to work for another coach after all the success the team has had, which is a credit to Hart and the players who have been a part of the program the last seven seasons.
“I’ve been fortunate to work for some great people. Right now it would be hard to imagine doing it any other way. We’ve been doing it for seven years the same way. We coach the same way. We coach hard, the organization has been the same and we’ve had a good run of athletes,” Robertson said. “When you got your program in the right place and you get those good athletes, you tend to have more success. We’ve been fortunate that several of our guys have been three-year starters. I would like to say a lot of has to do with us, but 90 percent of it has to do with those kids that put on the uniforms. Part of that is buying into our system and our program and Coach Hart leading us.”
Senior defensive back Jeremiah Jones backed up what Robertson said about Hart putting God first and the rest kind of falls into place.
“He’s laid back. He lets us go out there and play. We get coached up good during the week with preparation and we just have to go out and execute,” Jones said. “We talk about putting God before ourselves and just doing things that glorify him. I’m glad I play for him. He’s a good coach, a good man. I feel comfortable with him.”
Jamel Dennis said he is going to have to get used to playing for another coach in the future when he decides on the community college he wants to attend and added it was hard to think about playing for anybody else.
“He’s on us. He’s a good coach. He’s a man of God and he knows what he’s doing. He’s very organized,” Dennis said.
Hart will look to improve on his outstanding record at LHS Friday night when the No. 1 Commodores travel to play Amory in their third straight 4A North Half title game. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. (November 23, 2011, Page 6A)