Darnell returns for second season on Tigers' staff

BOONEVILLE – John Darnell may have spent a great deal of his adult life in pharmaceutical sales, but football was always there … lurking in the background.
The former Ole Miss and Corinth High School standout quarterback returned to the sidelines last year as offensive coordinator for Northeast Mississippi Community College.
He’s back for a second run this season with the Tigers.
“I don’t know where it’s going to take me,” said Darnell, who worked 10 years for Pfizer. “To be honest, I thought it would be a one-year deal, a stop-gap before I went back to my real job.
“Before you know it, it’s Christmas. Then I’m recruiting players. Then here I am now. There are a lot of good guys on this staff, especially head coach Ricky Smither, who’ve helped me in this transition back to football.”
Darnell, 43, remained connected to the game in some way all these years.
After graduating in 1989 from Ole Miss, he coached one season at Hillcrest Academy. He was a graduate assistant in 1990 for Ole Miss and held the same position in 1991 at Delta State.
He was about to take a job as an assistant on the staff at Northwestern (La.) State when he opted for a job selling insurance and moved to Grenada, where he became a volunteer assistant for two seasons at the high school.
He also played in the Arena Football League for the Tampa Bay Storm in 1991.
Darnell, who makes his home in Tupelo, worked for eight summers at a quarterback camp in North Carolina and has coached youth league football.
“That was my football fix,” said the former QB, who passed for 2,326 yards his senior season and led Ole Miss to an 8-4 record and a Liberty Bowl win against Air Force.
Darnell’s migration to Northeast was a simple one. He ran into Tigers defensive assistant Brad Boyette at a sandwich shop in Booneville.
“He asked me if I’d thought about getting back in coaching,” Darnell said. “I knew Ricky (Smither) from my year at Delta State. I volunteered that spring (2009) and went full-time in July.”
He’s a natural
Smither says Darnell’s a natural when it comes to coaching football.
“It’s been good for John as well as Northeast,” he said. “He’s very knowledgeable of the game and he’s been good for the kids.”
While Darnell’s not sure how long his return to football will be, he would like to be a part of helping Northeast build a winning program.
“I know what they say, that it’s hard to win at Northeast,” he said. “It was hard to win at Ole Miss, too. I’d really like Northeast to be successful.”
Darnell said it took some time to get used to the 12-hour coaching days.
“It’s totally different,” he said. “I used to ride around all day making sales calls and listening to sports radio.”
These days, he’s working with quarterback Clint Wilson on making the Tigers’ spread attack work.
“Football’s football,” Darnell said. “I got excited when we scored in pee wee ball. It’s the same for high school and college. You like putting a plan together and see if it will work.”
The Tigers, who finished 2-7 last year, open the 2010 season Sept. 2 at East Central.
Contact Gene Phelps at 678-1593 or gene.phelps@djournal.com

Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal