A Columbus area high school has filled its head football coach vacancy by hiring one away from another local school.
Dwight Jones is the new coach at Pacelli, leaving Russell County to search for his replacement.
Pacelli made the announcement with a news conference Thursday in the school’s cafeteria.
Mark “Dre” LeGree resigned as Pacelli’s head football coach three days after the Vikings ended their 2018 season with a 4-6 record, a surprise decision considering they had improved from a winless season the first year he coached his alma mater. But the Vikings were ranked 32nd out of 37 teams in the Georgia High School Association Class A Power Ratings for private schools. The top 24 teams qualified for the state playoffs.
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Jones has a record of 127-158 in 27 seasons as a high school head football coach.
In Georgia, he has a 92-97 record in 18 seasons at five schools: Hardaway (36-28 in 1995-2000), Northside (12-10 in 2004-05), McIntosh (2-18 in 2006-07), Jones County (31-30 in 2008-2013) and Harris County (11-11 in 2014-15).
In Alabama, he has a 35-61 record and nine seasons at two schools: Russell County (21-31 in 1990-94 and 6-24 in 2016-18) and Auburn (8-6 in 2001).
“The first thing I wanted to find was a coach with leadership, experience and discipline,” said Pacelli athletics director Corry Black, “and he nailed all three of those categories, and I couldn’t have found a better football coach to come lead this Viking football program.”
Jones thanked Black and principal Ronie Collins for giving him the opportunity. Then he invoked the name of the late Nathan Rustin (96-141-1 record in 1975-1999), the winningest coach in the program’s 59-season history.
“Coach Rustin and I were great friends, and Coach Rustin talked about Pacelli pride,” Jones said. “We both grew up in Phenix City, Alabama. My mom still lives over there. Coach Rustin, from the day I met him to the day he passed away, he believed in Pacelli pride, Viking pride. He always said, ‘Once a Viking, always a Viking.’”
The coach concluded, “Little things become big things. Discipline is doing something that you really don’t want to do because you really want to do something really bad. So we’re going to make sure we take care of the little things and get the big things, and we’re going to be disciplined.”
After the news conference, Jones explained why he chose to leave Russell County. Pacelli baseball coach Bobby Howard, who was hired in May after coaching at Central and winning 12 state championships at Columbus High , was among the folks who encouraged him to join the Vikings.
“Bobby and I have been talking about coaching together for probably the last 30 years,” Jones told the Ledger-Enquirer. “I had some contact with him about what it’s like here. Then I began to talk with Coach Black, and I just felt like it was a situation where you have a chance to be successful. I live in Hamilton, so it’s a lot shorter drive for me than going all the way to Russell County.”
Asked whether Howard will be one of his assistant coaches, Jones shook his head, smiled and said, “I tried to twist his arm and get him on the football staff, but I do think he’ll help me in any way he can. He and I have a great relationship, so I look forward to working with him.”
Jones said he also was attracted to the idea of coaching at a smaller school. Pacelli is a Class A private school in the Georgia High School Association. Russell County is a Class 6A school in the Alabama High School Athletic Association.
“The people of Russell County have been fantastic to me,” Jones stressed. “. . . It’s not anything that was wrong with Russell County.”
In a phone interview with the Ledger-Enquirer, Russell County School District superintendent Brenda Coley emphasized Jones’ departure was his decision and he could have remained as the Warriors’ head coach.
“I think he’s been an asset to our district,” she said. “I hate to see him go. He’s been a great addition to our staff. He has done a great job of providing structure and discipline for the boys. He had great relationships with the students and also the community, but I understand new opportunities arise and people take advantage of them.”
No replacement for Jones has been hired. Russell County athletics director Demond McCoy is overseeing the transition, deciding whether to name an interim coach while the head coaching search is conducted, Coley said. She hopes to have a candidate to recommend to the school board at its next meeting, Feb. 19.
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.