BRANDON SPECK: Hammond gets Tupelo turned around quickly

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com Tupelo coach Trent Hammond celebrates Friday's big victory over South Panola.

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Tupelo coach Trent Hammond celebrates Friday’s big victory over South Panola.

TUPELO

Trent Hammond came out of nowhere, it seemed like. When Pat Byrd left Amory for Saltillo four years ago, a lot of big names surfaced.

No one knew Hammond. He was already well-established – two state titles as an assistant at Lawrence County and McComb – but not in North Mississippi.

But then-Amory superintendent Gearl Loden hired him and Amory was in the Class 4A North finals two years later.

When Loden brought Hammond to Tupelo a year ago, I wrote a column making the point that Hammond had been unable to beat the big dog barking in Amory’s back yard – county rival Aberdeen.

He would have to face an even bigger dog at rebuilding Tupelo, South Panola, a team that refers to itself as a University, the undisputed king of Mississippi football and a national power.

Well in two weeks, Hammond’s team has knocked off another Amory and Mississippi coaching legend, Bobby Hall at Madison Central, then The U on Friday. Now Tupelo – Tupelo! – is going to the state championship game.

“He’s a great guy to work for,” offensive coordinator John Keith said. “He lets his coaches work. He expects a lot of us, but completely 100 percent believes in what we’re doing and gives us the freedom to make decisions.”

I covered Hammond’s three years at Amory as sports editor at the Monroe Journal. The first one was rough, 3-9 – even our working relationship got off to a rough start – admittedly two similarly strong personalities working through a misunderstanding.

Change of plan

In Year 2, Hammond and his staff did something coaches don’t like to do, change philosophies.

The running coach became a lover of all things five-wide. With Keith and quarterback Forest Williams, Amory set state passing records. Again this year, it has come with an offensive philosophy of whatever it takes, a credit to Hammond’s want-to-win.

It takes a team and coaching staff effort. Defensive coordinator Lamar Aldridge is the leader of the best defense in all of 6A. Hammond is the head coach and the face of the staff and the team.

Hammond is the man in charge of the largest school in the state of Mississippi, but largest doesn’t mean best. That is South Panola. Not this year. Tupelo now has a shot to be the biggest – and the best. Nobody expected this, not a coach, not a player, not a fan, not any of the extra warm bodies in the pressbox. And if they said they did, it’s a sin.

But Hammond has already proven Loden correct and has left no doubt about his coaching abilities.

“I’ll be mad if you don’t write it. My praise goes to the football coaches I’ve got with me,” Hammond said. “We wouldn’t be here today if the staff that I’ve got didn’t put a game plan in and make these kids buy in.”

brandon.speck@journalinc.com