South Pike’s athletic department is set to move toward the 2022-23 school year after a slew of coaching hires were approved at a school board meeting Thursday.
The Eagles have named Luther “Skip” McCray as their new athletic director; Jeremy Jones as their new head football coach; Jacob Reed as the boys basketball coach; and Candace Felder-Hall as the girls basketball coach, among other additions.
McCray has worn a wide range of hats since coming to South Pike in 2015, and he expects to remain in his roles as an assistant football coach and head boys track coach. But he’s thrilled to take over a greater leadership role at his alma mater.
“It’s just exciting that life comes full circle, and I'm very excited to be in this position,” McCray said. “I’m here to work for kids and just encourage our kids to do the very best that they can. I’m here to support the coaches … and just move the district and the athletic department forward.”
Jones replaces Brinson Wall, who retired in the spring after 25 years of teaching and coaching in Mississippi public schools. The Eagles are also replacing offensive coordinator Brinson Johnson, who’s now at Holmes County Central, and promoting Tyrone Varnado to assistant coach.
The Eagles did not hold spring practice during the school year with the coaching position vacant, but will take the field for the first time Monday morning.
Prior to South Pike, Jones spent the last four seasons as head coach at Forest Hill in Jackson. The Patriots went 11-30 in his tenure, but reached the playoffs in 2019 for the first time since 2008, earning him regional Coach of the Year honors. Jones was previously an assistant coach at Concordia College in Alabama.
“He’s coached in college, he’s played in college, and we just wanted someone who is motivated and can help our kids get to that next level,” McCray said of Jones. “He has many people that speak very positively of him, and so we’re just excited that we can get him down here to lead our football program.”
Reed and Felder-Hall will combine to replace Hilton Harrell, who has been reinstated by the school after being terminated in April but will not work in his prior jobs. Harrell had coached boys and girls basketball while also serving as athletic coordinator.
It’s the first head coaching job for Reed, who was an assistant coach at Co-Lin Community College from 2014-21 before joining Clinton High School’s staff last year and helping lead the Arrows to a second consecutive 6A state championship. He’s a young coach, and the Eagles are excited to give him this opportunity.
“I think recruiting young kids really set him up to be a successful high school coach because of his age and his ability to reach kids and communicate with them on their levels,” McCray said. “So he really stuck out — we’re really, really glad to get him because he has very high credentials and I knew he was gonna be very sought-after.”
Felder-Hall had been an assistant coach under Harrell on the girls team. She’ll take over a group that went 17-11 (and started 11-2) last season but has several seniors to replace.
“It gives some familiarity to the kids because she will be the only returning coach with the basketball program as a whole,” McCray said. “It’s good to have somebody there that the kids can lean back against. And she’s a hungry coach and I think she will do many great things for our basketball program.”
South Pike did not fill its baseball coaching vacancy at the meeting, but added Jessie Caston as a varsity assistant. Chet Dear had led the Eagles for nine seasons before retiring this spring.
The 2022 fall season will also be the first for volleyball coach Nathiele Peterson, who had helped with the program last season.
While a couple of boxes remain unchecked, South Pike is eager to move forward with its new coaches as it prepares for a new year. The Eagles hope the new hires are worth the wait for everyone.
“It’s not about us as individuals — it’s about us helping kids,” McCray said. “That’s what we’re gonna lead with going forward, making decisions that are best for all kids involved to blossom and give them a platform where they can showcase their talents and lead to college and beyond.”