By Jamie Wachter / Sports Editor
The Meridian Star
Coaching changes aren’t abnormal. After all, there were more than 30 in the area alone.
However, six of those hires belonged to one school — Meridian Community College — over the course of one summer, and that mass turnover within the Eagles’ athletic department, which also included a new athletic director, is The Star’s No. 8 story of the year.
Coaching turnover is nothing new for MCC either, exemplified most in the men’s basketball program. Since George Brooks left the Eagles’ sideline to join the Mississippi State staff following the 2009-10 season, MCC is on its third coach in three years. Well, technically fourth, although one never coached a game.
After one season under Jeff Walker, MCC hired Dale Brown to lead the program. However, another coaching opportunity came along and Brown departed within a month and Nathan Courtney was handed the reins to the Eagles. One season later, Courtney left to return closer to home and MCC turned to a former Eagle standout in Cedric Drake.
“Cedric has been a winner all his life — on and off the court, and I expect him to have that kind of positive influence in building a solid program at MCC,” college president Dr. Scott Elliott said in release announcing the hire.
Turning to someone with Eagle ties became the norm during the busy offseason for Elliott and Sander Atkinson, who was tabbed as the new athletic director in replacing Hilary Allen, who also was the women’s basketball coach before announcing his retirement in August.
Another former player was named the Eagles’ new softball coach as Faith Robinson replaced Robert Eakins, who retired. Robinson played third base for Eakins in 2000-01, helping MCC reach the national tournament both seasons.
“I am really looking forward to my renewed association with MCC softball,” Robinson said in a school release. “In fact, it’s a dream come true for me to come back to MCC.”
Another MCC coach that realized a dream in ascending to a head coaching job with the Eagles is Mike Smith. An assistant coach with MCC for five seasons, Smith was promoted to the head women’s soccer coach — becoming the second in school history as he replaced Alex George, who remains the men’s coach.
“This has always been a dream of mine,” the former MCC star said.
MCC also promoted an assistant and former Eagle standout to head coach of, possibly, its most prominent sport as Dillon Sudduth replaced Chris Curry as head baseball coach. Curry, also a former Eagle, left MCC after two seasons to join the staff at Northwestern State. Sudduth had served as an MCC assistant for five years under Curry and Chris Rose.
“This is a bad news-good news day for MCC,” Elliott said at the time. “Losing a young, dynamic coach of the magnitude of Chris Curry is undeniably a blow, but the good news is that we have a very capable coach waiting in the wings in Dillon. In actuality, Dillon was a serious candidate for our head coaching job two years ago when Chris came on board.”
Promoting from assistant to head coach has been the norm for MCC’s baseball program as Sudduth became the sixth Eagle assistant to become head coach joining Terry Williams, Scott Berry, Mike Federico, Chad Caillet and Rose.
“It’s a formula that has worked well for MCC,” Elliott said in a release. “But that’s only because the assistant coaches MCC has promoted have been part of a highly successful program. In fact, they have all contributed mightily to that success. Dillon has earned his shot, and I am confident that he will continue the tradition of excellence we’ve enjoyed with Eagle baseball.”
Another sport that has enjoyed excellence has been MCC’s golf team, which also will be under its third coach in three years. Following Sean Covich’s departure to MSU as an assistant, Clinton Hales guided the program for one season. In his stead, the Eagles turn to former Lamar coach Ronnie Key and father of former MCC star Easton Key.
The only hire without direct ties to the college was the replacement for Allen, who just led the women’s basketball team to the national tournament for the first time since 2000. Upon his retirement, MCC turned to Jocelyn McGilberry, who spent more than 20 years of major college coaching experience to the Eagles, including 17 in the Southeastern Conference at Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
It was a hire that excited Elliott, who said the Eagles “hit the jackpot.
“I’m just ecstatic. Coach McGilberry is a perfect fit for MCC.”