By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
INGOMAR – Jonathan Ashley had no intentions of leaving Myrtle, a place where he had won 70 percent of his boys basketball games in six years.
Norris Ashley, his father and the state’s all-time winningest high school basketball coach, had every intention of leaving Ingomar after 41 seasons.
The end result: Norris Ashley, 64, retired Monday and was replaced at Ingomar by Jonathan Ashley, 35, his son. The transition was that smooth and simple.
“I felt like it was time to pass the baton on,” said Norris Ashley, who exits the gymnasium with a career record of 1,697 wins, 860 losses, nine state championships and one Grand Slam title in 43 years total. “I thought this was a great opportunity for Jonathan. We’ve got some talent coming back and I think he can take it to another level.”
Jonathan Ashley fashioned a 158-65 record at Myrtle, a Union County rival of Ingomar’s. He led two of his Hawks teams to the Class 1A state championship game and two teams to the state semifinals.
The younger Ashley had turned down his father’s previous offers to succeed him in recent years. This time, things were different.
“I had a good group of kids at Myrtle that I wanted to stay with,” Jonathan said. “People have been good to me and I intended to stay.”
Despite recent rumors that he was replacing his father, the deal wasn’t sealed until a few days ago.
“Basically, he told me he was ready to retire,” Jonathan said. “He looked across that table at me and told me, ‘I want you to take my place.’
“It was hard to turn him down.”
Union County Schools superintendent Ken Basil said he was pleased with how the scenario played out.
“I’m happy for Coach (Norris) Ashley,” Basil said. “This spring he said he was tired and wanted to see Jonathan take his place. The pieces fell into place.
“I always thought Jonathan was the only one who could replace him.”
Norris Ashley’s exit from coaching leaves Houlka coach Jimmy Guy McDonald as Northeast Mississippi’s longest tenured coach.
“This is a shocker,” McDonald said. “I figured as long as he was breathing he’d be like me and they’d have to tote him off the court.
“We both started the same year. He beat me that year in overtime in the girls state finals. We’ve been knocking heads ever since.”
Basil, a former girls coach at West Union, had his battles against Ashley, too.
“I studied him, Elvis Thomas (Myrtle) and Harvey Childers (New Albany),” Basil said. “Norris used the same style and never changed. He wasn’t worried about what you did. You had to stop him.”