/We got this one right’ No 1 Hattiesburg’s climb began with hire of 4th coach in 4 years

We got this one right’ No 1 Hattiesburg’s climb began with hire of 4th coach in 4 years

These Tigers are fast and aggressive. They averaged 27 yards per play in the first half, beating Pearl River Central 60-7. Vance’s Hattiesburg football team is a slow and careful build process that began with a solid foundation. This didn’t happen overnight. It was a long process. It was necessary. It began with more than just a bang. Vance started on the job February 11, 2013. Vance arrived on the job on February 11, 2013, the day after a massive EF4 tornado swept through Hattiesburg, causing damage of over $35 million, including extensive damage to Hattiesburg High. Vance, 43 years old, says “Some welcome,” and can now smile about it. Buddy Watkins Gymnasium also houses the locker room, weight room, and coaches offices. The roof was blown off by the storm. Vance was the Tigers’ first season without any of that. Vance was Hattiesburg’s fourth football coach after four years. Before Vance arrived in Hattiesburg, the Tigers didn’t have a roof to cover their heads. They also had no system or identity. Cheyenne Trussell (the athletic director who hired Vance from Charleston High in Delta) says, “That’s why he was hired.” Tony did not try to sell us a quick fix. He explained the process and how it would work. He spoke about discipline in the classroom and on the field. He spoke about his upbringing and the beliefs he holds dear. He was a strong communicator and had a testimony. That was a great gift for our kids. Tony was the right person for us. We had many great candidates. Trussell moved to Starkville and Vance is now Hattiesburg’s athletic director and football coach. Trussell remembers having a laugh with Vance after the 2013 season. Vance’s Tigers lost their four first games and finished 4-8. Trussell said that Tony came in distraught and stated that he could understand if I wanted him to go. I told him to keep on going, and that this was a process. The process has now become a record. They finished 5-7 in 2014 and 8-4 in 2015, 10-3 in 2016 and 14-1 in last season, when they reached State 5A championship before losing to West Point. They are now 7-0, with a 51-19 win over Oak Grove (6-1), which was 6A powerhouse. Do you see a trend? Vance states, “We still have a long way to go.” “We can play better defense. We must play better defense. We can play better special-teams. We can improve.” *** Oak Grove’s Nevil Bar, who retired in 2013 after a remarkable coaching career which included a 6A State Championship as well as a 38-6 defeat of Vance’s first Hattiesburg squad. He has been watching the Hattiesburg program from just a few miles. Barr said that Hattiesburg has always had talent. They’ve had many coaches over the years, some of which were very good but they have always struggled with continuity and stability. They have had Tony as their coach. His teams have become more disciplined and harder working. He is able to relate to these kids. He is able to connect with them. They play hard. They are tough on him, but they clearly enjoy playing for him. They don’t let themselves down, just like any great football team. They make no mistakes. It’s a tribute Tony.” *** Who is this Tony Vance, this great communicator and coach, and where did he come? We are glad you asked. His story, which is a long one but simplified here, explains a lot. Tony Vance describes him as the 12th child of 13 children to Dorothy Vance. He calls her “the smartest woman” and says that his mama was a Head Start teacher who raised 13 children without any assistance. “The love of our mother was all that we had growing up – and that was enough.” Tony Vance describes the Vance family’s home as “an old, three-room shack” in Tippo, a Delta community 14 miles from Charleston, where Vance went to school and played football. Vance said that you could see the stars from our roof. Vance says that he could see the stars through the roof. He says, “The only thing that I learned from my father was how to not be.” His mother? He says, “I learned the importance of education.” She always stressed the importance of school for achieving better things. Hard work was what I learned. We lived off the land. I learned the importance of discipline. I learned the importance of being tough. My mama was tough. She was a firm believer. Dorothy Vance was a strong believer. She had 13 children and was a teacher at Head Start. Tony Vance claims that she started dialysis at eight years old. Tony Vance was a football player at Charleston Community College and Coahoma Community College. When he was about to start playing for Mississippi Valley, he noticed how difficult it was for his mother to get in and out the car. He said, “It was not a way to live,” and that he was determined to change it. It was a kidney transplant. Tony Vance, his siblings and other relatives were all tested for potential donors. Tony was the best match. Tony Vance said it was the best decision he made. He says, “My mama was the happiest and most healthy she could remember.” She died seven months later. Vance states that she caught a cold and her immune system was not working properly due to the anti-rejection medications. Slideshow by Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today photographer: Dorothy Vance was not there for Tony’s coaching career or his marriage. He didn’t win 60 games, but he lost only 10 at Charleston. He didn’t coach in any of his two consecutive state championship games. She couldn’t help but make the decision when Cheyenne Trussell, a Hattiesburg resident, called in 2013 to offer her a job. Vance states, “We had it going in Charleston.” “It wasn’t an easy decision.” Hattiesburg is home to many boys from single-parent families. They need guidance, discipline, and a role model. Tony Vance understands. He says, “We had to win the field before we could start winning on it.” “We had to get better in the classroom.” That’s what the Tigers did. They won the MHSAA scholar-athlete award in 2016-17 for having a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher. The stated goal for this year is to win both the academic award and the state championship. Vance states, “I am proud of what we have achieved, but we aren’t satisfied.” “We’re going after it all.” Dorothy Vance would surely be proud.