PERKINSTON — Mississippi Gulf Coast’s Jack Wright was named NJCAA Coach of the Year on Thursday, but he wants the world to know it’s about way more than him.
Wright would rather the award be known as the NJCAA Coaching Staff of the Year, for one.
“It’s a great award for our program,” he said. “Like receiving any individual award in a team sport, it’s a reflection of the team’s success. We use it as a way to give credit to our whole football program, and our coaches have done so much to recruit, teach and motivate our players, who bought in and played so well all year.”
Gulf Coast won the fifth national championship in the football program’s history, capping a 12-0 season with a 24-13 win over No. 2 Lackawanna last week in Pittsburg, Kansas.
Wright is just the second coach in NJCAA history to win a national championship at two different schools, joining Dick Foster, who won as coach of Fort Scott in 1970 and Coffeyville in 1983. He won his first title and NJCAA Coach of the Year award when Northwest Mississippi won in 2015.
This year’s Bulldogs led the country in total defense at 191.9 yards per game, the only team to allow less than 200. They were seventh in total offense, a well-balanced club.
Wright’s first team at Gulf Coast went 7-2 in 2018, narrowly missing the playoffs. The returning players from last year’s offense, along with the incoming freshmen, tipped him off about halfway through training camp that the team had a chance to be really special.
“I knew we were better at a lot of positions on offense, and we were going against our defense every single day and not finding any kind of consistent success,” he said. “I knew we had a good offense in 2018, and I knew we were going to be better in 2019, yet going against our defense just made me believe they were going to be really good, too.”
The balance between offense and defense was of utmost importance during the season. The rugged MACJC put the 60-man squad to the test on the way to the school’s 16th state championship, preparing the Bulldogs for a tough Falcons team in the national championship game.
“You have to give them a lot of credit for really buying into each other,” Wright said. “At some point this year, it took everybody on that roster to get it done. Whether it be the defense giving up some early points and the offense responding right away, or the offense struggling in a couple of games and the defense keeping us in it until we found a rhythm. Whether it was a big special teams play or an interception, it took everybody on this roster to get this done. That also meant they had to be unselfish at some point, and they had to let somebody else play the hero.”
About half the roster will graduate and move onto the next level, which is typical in community college football. But those players and the ones from the 2018 team have established a rock-solid foundation.
“It means the future of our program is on solid footing,” Wright said. “At Gulf Coast Community College, we have a chance to compete in every single game. We have a chance to put our kids in a position to be competitive every week, and hopefully, we can use this momentum to keep climbing the ladder and make our program competitive and nationally relevant for years to come.”