This is the fourth of a series of columns about the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019, which will be inducted at the Jackson Convention Center Saturday night.
The best, most successful football coaches know how to adjust to different scenarios. For instance, it has been said and written of Bear Bryant that he won with both all-white and with integrated football teams, that he won in both one-platoon and two-platoon football, that he won running both the wishbone and pro style offenses, that he won in Kentucky blue, Aggie maroon and Alabama crimson. No matter what, Bryant just won.
“I ain’t nothing but a winner,” Bryant once said.
You can say much the same about Ricky Black, the second winning-est coach in Mississippi high school football history, who Saturday night will be inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. Black won at small schools, such as Kosciusko (49-6), and large schools such as Tupelo (89-31). He won in those public schools and also at a private school (245-38 at Jackson Prep). He won running veer and wishbone option offenses and has won with pro style offenses. He once won with country kids and now he wins with city kids. He just wins. At age 70, Black will enter his 49th season in coaching with a remarkable 383-75 record.
In 2018, Black was named National High School Football Coach of the Year by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association. In the rich history of Mississippi high school football, he is the first from the state to win the national award.
No telling how many games Black might have won had he not taken a six-year sabbatical (1991-96) from high school coaching to join Jackie Sherrill’s staff at Mississippi State.
True story: Immediately after Sherrill took the job at State, he called this writer and told me: “I want to hire the best high school coach in Mississippi to work on my staff,” and then he asked, “In your opinion who are the three coaches I ought to consider?”
Black, who had turned around the Tupelo program, was one. Mac Barnes, then at Meridian, and Mike Justice (then at Louisville) were the other two. Sherrill hired Black, and he would serve State, his alma mater, as both tight end coach and recruiting coordinator.
Black currently trails only Centreville Academy’s Bill Hurst (400-119) on Mississippi’s all-time victory list. Given that Black has averaged nine victories per year over 42 head coaching seasons, he likely would have more than 430 victories if not for the six-year hiatus.
So, does Black ever think about that?
“Well I have thought about it but not for long,” Black said. “My time at Mississippi State was a great experience. And, really, you don’t get in this business thinking about the number of wins you are going to have. Of course, you don’t get in the business thinking some day you’d be looking at year 49 either.”
And why did Black leave State to return to the high school level at Jackson Prep? He says he missed teaching younger players.
“You can just have so much more influence on 14- to 18-year-olds,” Black said. “You teach more, and that’s always been the part of it that I really enjoy. I have always enjoyed teaching the fundamentals.”
Justice, who coached against Black when he was at Louisville and Black was at Tupelo, was asked why he believes Black has been so successful.
“Number one, Ricky’s teams always have been so fundamentally sound,” Justice said. “That’s important but the other thing is that what happened at Tupelo while he was there was that his teams got so much tougher. Before Ricky got there, Tupelo was kinda soft. They got a lot tougher, more physical under him. He’s just a dadgum good football coach, a winner.”
Linda Black was 19 and Ricky was 20 when they married, and she admits she knew little about football. She has attended every game he has ever coached.
“I love the man, I like the sport,” she said. “One reason I love him because I know he does what he does for the right reasons. He’s trying to make those kids as good a player and as good a person as they can be. He pushes them hard, but sees the possibilities in every kid he coaches.”
And for Ricky Black, that has been literally thousands.