By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Jeff Norwood cheered for the Tupelo Golden Wave in this year’s Class 6A state championship basketball game against Jim Hill.
His high school alma mater lost the March 3 game in overtime, but Norwood exited Jackson’s Mississippi Coliseum impressed with the spirited play exhibited by the THS players.
“I was very proud of the effort the guys gave,” he said. “I thought they were going to win it. I was pulling for them … not knowing I’d be in the race for the coaching job.”
Norwood, 49, an assistant men’s basketball coach at William Carey University in Hattiesburg, won the race for the THS position. He was named the school’s boys basketball coach Thursday during the monthly school board meeting.
He replaced Grant Pate, who resigned last month to become men’s basketball coach at Itawamba Community College.
“I’m very happy to be here,” Norwood said. “My goal is to compete at a high level and instill in our players the importance of leadership and sportsmanship.”
Norwood, who has never been a head coach, coached three seasons for William Carey. Prior to that, he coached on the men’s basketball staff at the University of Southern Mississippi. He has also been an assistant coach on the men’s and women’s staffs at Mississippi State, where he played from 1981-85.
Norwood will also serve the high school and middle school as its graduation coach, counseling students to remain in school and graduate.
“Jeff’s passionate about helping students off the court more than on the court,” THS principal Jason Harris said. “That speaks volumes for him.”
Norwood was one of four candidates interviewed for the job. A fifth candidate pulled out of consideration, according to THS athletics director Danny Porter.
“We liked his enthusiasm about returning to Tupelo,” Porter said. “I think he will be a good role model for the students.”
Norwood becomes the first African American boys head basketball coach at THS. His father, Steve, served as the first minority member on the Tupelo school board.
“It’s historical, but it really hasn’t crossed my mind much,” Norwood said. “I just wanted to be the coach.
“There is a need for African-American role models. At the same time, I want to be a good coach and a good role model for all the students.”
Norwood’s teams will feature an up-tempo style that starts with full-court, man-to-man defense, along with some zone looks to keep opponents honest.
“I like a fast-paced game, but I am more defensive-minded,” he said. “I believe defense wins championships.
“If you work hard on defense, you’re going to score.”