The Martez Edwards era was over before it truly began, and suddenly Meridian found itself without a football coach Monday, just more than two months before the start of the 2019 season.
Most fan bases can’t wait until the start of football season. For Wildcats fans, they’re probably wishing their team’s opening game at Northeast Lauderdale was Sept. 23, not Aug. 23.
Edwards, hired in January, was placed on administrative leave in early May after a photo surfaced on social media of what appeared to be a nude Edwards. The Meridian Public School District issued a news release at the time stating it was “aware of the inappropriate photo circulating of an MPSD employee” that prompted Edwards being placed on leave.
Then we waited. And waited. And waited some more until Monday, when Edwards’ firing was upheld by the MPSD Board of Trustees. In the meantime, Edwards spoke to The Star and told us that while the photo in question was indeed of him, it was only meant to be seen by one person, a woman he was dating in Atlanta.
“I was actually admiring my weight loss,” Edwards said. “I had just happened to be freshly out of the shower, so I hadn’t put on clothes. I sent it to her — she’s the only person that received it.”
Edwards, who isn’t married, went on to tell us he believed someone illegally obtained the photo from his cell phone, which is how it ended up on social media.
“Somebody tapped into my personal device and violated my constitutional rights to privacy,” Edwards said.
A reason for Edwards’ firing was not given when Monday’s decision was finalized. He plans to appeal the firing in chancery court, but his time as head coach at Meridian is done. Now, whether it’s appointing an interim coach or going through another coaching search, Meridian faces the tall task of navigating a schedule this fall that includes South Panola, Starkville, Northwest Rankin, Pearl, Oak Grove, Brandon and Petal — all with a head coach that wasn’t the team’s head coach through the end of spring training.
That’s a lot to ask of any team, much less a team that will be with its third leading man in less than a year. Following Calvin Hampton’s resignation back in November after a disappointing season, Edwards was hired in late January. He was placed on administrative leave with pay on May 6, which meant from then until now the team has effectively been without a head coach.
I feel bad for the assistant coaches still on staff at Meridian. I feel even worse for the players, especially the seniors. Let’s face it, going through spring training under one head coach and running onto the sideline in late August with a different head coach is not a recipe for a special season. Whoever takes the Meridian job will say all the right things: “We expect to win now. We’re building toward the future, but this is not a lost season.” But the coach speak will be no match for the reality, and should Edwards’ replacement actually pull off a special season against that gauntlet of a schedule, he should win coach of the year hands down in MHSAA Class 6A.
It would be a disservice to ignore the Wildcats fanbase in all of this. As Meridian struggled to a 4-7 record last season, fans made their voices heard the only way they know how: by not coming to Ray Stadium in support of what they felt like was an inferior product. It isn’t a stretch to say Edwards, who was 5-17 in two seasons at Forest Park (Georgia) High School before getting hired at Meridian, got a lukewarm-at-best reception by the Wildcats faithful at the time of his hiring.
Let’s be honest: The fanbase at large, with a few exceptions, probably isn’t all that upset Edwards was let go. The problem for them, though, is these same fans likely have zero faith in the current decision-makers to find the right fit. Hampton was a Meridianite, and the fanbase still turned on him when the Wildcats didn’t perform up to expectations last fall. With the addition of Northwest Rankin into an already stacked division, Meridian had no choice but to hit a grand slam with its coaching hire back in January after Hampton left.
With the way things played out, it’s apparent now they instead grounded into a triple play. Fans are understandably frustrated by everything that has transpired. There’s no reason Meridian can’t win in football, but what good does it do to stress how important this upcoming hire is? That was the case in January, and the result was bad publicity and a terminated head coach at the most inopportune time. No one, least of all me, understands why it has been so difficult for the school to find the right fit.
When boys basketball coach Randy Bolden left a stacked Meridian team to join the junior college coaching ranks, the school went out and hired Ron Norman, a coach with a championship pedigree, who went on to coach the Wildcats to three straight Class 6A title game appearances and a state championship in 2017. Is it really that difficult for the school to hire a coach with a similar resume in football? And if it is, why?
Drew Kerekes is the sports editor at The Meridian Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.