The 37-year-old boys basketball coach is leaving Nettleton High for Ripley High after nine seasons.
Gardner’s hiring at Ripley became official on Thursday. He replaces Trent Adair who left after two seasons to pursue a teaching position in Tupelo.
Kedrick Storey of the Southern Sentinel was the first to report Gardner’s hiring.
“I’m so, so excited about going to Ripley,” said Gardner, who found out about Ripley’s opening while vacationing in Destin, Fla., last week. “At the same time, when you stay nine years at some place, you make so many friends.
“My children grew up in Nettleton. None of them can remember being anywhere else right now. They are going to be changing tiger stripes, from blue and red to black and gold.”
Gardner will always share this connection with Nettleton: On the day he was supposed to interview for the Nettleton High basketball coaching position, his middle child, Graham, was born.
“We thought of Nettleton as a good home,” Gardner said. “We have nothing but good things to say about Nettleton.”
So Coach, why would you leave Nettleton, especially after posting back-to-back 25-5 seasons the past two years?
“First and foremost, you got a brand new facility that I would call the nicest high school facility in the state of Mississippi,” Gardner explained. “In the last 20 to 25 years, they’ve (Ripley) had as much success in basketball as just about anyone.
“Barry Goolsby and Harvey Childers all did a good job of building a great foundation to have future success.”
Gardner views the Ripley job as one of the three top high school basketball coaching jobs in North Mississippi. His brother, Guy, who played at Mississippi State, was an assistant at Ripley.
“I think Ripley, Corinth and Tupelo are the premiere jobs in North Mississippi because of their facilities and the support that they have,” the new Ripley coach said.
Gardner, who is a 1992 graduate of Baldwyn High and played basketball at Northeast Mississippi Community College, is in awe of Ripley’s new gymnasium, which opened this past season. He refers to it as the Staples Center – the home of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers – of high school facilities.
“It’s got chairback seats and plenty of office space,” he said. “The locker room facilities are way better than some colleges’, and I played college basketball.”
Another plus for Gardner by changing jobs is less of a commute. He and his family live on the Union County line on Highway 30.
“By changing jobs, I’m now 30 minutes closer to my workplace,” he said of his new 15 to 20 minute commute to Ripley. “Going to Nettleton, it would take 45 to 50 minutes to get there.
“It will be a blessing for my kids and myself because there won’t be any more of these late, late, late nights after road games. Time-wise, it will be perfect for my family and me.”
Gardner is no stranger to coaching in Division 1-3A, as he coached at Kossuth High for two years. He guided the Aggies to a state tournament semifinals appearance and a 31-8 record in 2000.
He is also no stranger to coaching in South Tippah County. His first coaching job was at Blue Mountain.
“I’m planning on being there until my daughter (Melly, 7) graduates,” Gardner said about his new workplace. “Then, I’ll retire and hit a golf ball somewhere.
“I’ll be there for 11 years. Hopefully, we’ll win 11 state championships.”
Contact John Wilbert at 678-1572