Knox folding up fort, retiring after 31 years

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 5, 2001

James Knox, Vicksburg High’s head coach, talks to his team during a 26-19 win over Yazoo City on Sept. 17, 1999. He leaves Vicksburg High after a 31 years as a coach there, 12 as head coach. (The Vicksburg Post/FILE)

[03/05/01] The hunting rifles and fishing poles have been waiting in James Knox’s house.

They’ll wait no longer.

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After 12 seasons as the head coach and 31 years involved in the Vicksburg High football program, Knox, 62, is hanging up his whistle.

In a letter given to school officials on Friday, Knox said Vicksburg was a big part of his life and he was sad, but not unhappy to leave. A search for a new coach will begin soon, Vicksburg High Principal Don Taylor said.

“My family and I talked it over and I thought it would be best for the family,” said Knox, who has a 12-year-old son, Franco, at Vicksburg Junior High. “I’ve been on the road since 1965, and I figured it’s time for a little rest.”

Assistants Robert Erves, Jackie Williamson and Alonzo Stevens are expected to apply for the job. A meeting with Vicksburg Warren athletics director Lum Wright Jr., Superintendent Donald Oakes and Taylor is scheduled for Monday.

“We’ll meet Monday and put on paper what we’re looking for in a coach,” Taylor said.

Knox added, “I hope they keep it in house. We have some great coaches on this staff that I think are very capable.”

His successor will certainly have some large shoes to fill.

In his tenure, Knox went 90-53 and made the playoffs 10 times. His 1990 and 1991 squads advanced deep into the playoffs.

The two hurdles Knox could not eclipse were reaching a state championship and figuring out Warren Central. Knox noted that he was the only coach in the 20-year history of the heated series to ever beat the Vikings, 10-9, in 1990.

“All of them have been very good football games,” WC coach Robert Morgan said. “It didn’t make any difference if we had a better team than them, or they had a better team than us.

“You could never get comfortable until that final horn blew.”

Knox said that the 1990 game stuck out in his mind as one of his greatest coaching moments. He also coached in the Bernard Blackwell All-Star game and the Mississippi/Alabama All-Star game.

His desire to escape the grueling fall schedule demanded of a football coach and to be closer to his son made the decision a bit easier.

“I don’t want to be working until I just can’t,” Knox said. “I want to go out and enjoy life a little bit. … I figure I can help Franco more, individually, now than I really could working.”

After graduating from now-defunct Bowman High, Knox went on to play at Alcorn State. In 1964, he returned to Vicksburg to be an assistant coach for the Greenies, now the Gators.

Knox left after one season for five-year stint on the Gulf Coast as an assistant before returning in 1971 as an assistant with Vicksburg.

Knox worked for six coaches over the next 17 years, finally getting his shot in 1988.

“I went through a lot of head coaches, so I had a lot of experience,” Knox said. “I learned a lot from all of them and it was a great experience for me.”

When the head coaching spot came open in 1988, Knox said he had mixed feelings about applying.

“I thought about it once before, but that was the first time I went for it,” Knox said. “I talked to some people and they said, you got to think about what you are gonna do. If you get the head coaching job and it doesn’t work out, you’re too young to retire, then what are you gonna do.’ I thought that over seriously. When I reapplied, I thought I was ready.”

Both the 1990 and ’91 squads lost in the Class 5A semifinals to Tupelo, the best run the Gators made under Knox. The ’91 team spent most of the season as the state’s top-ranked team before losing to WC in the regular-season finale.

“We didn’t think we would do as well as we did,” Knox said of the team he inherited after Jim Sizemore resigned. “The assistant coaches and I got together and we put together a good team. My record can speak for that.”

Three current NFL players Michael Myers (Dallas Cowboys), Mark Smith (Arizona Cardinals) and Rod Coleman (Oakland Raiders) played for the Gators during Knox’s years.

Coaches said Friday they had heard rumors Knox might be retiring, but the news was still a surprise. He told the team during a break from lifting weights Friday.

“I asked him, Are you ready for that?’ and he said, It’s time, coach,” said Erves, who’s been a VHS assistant for 25 years. “The years I’ve been with him, I’ve enjoyed them. He’s an excellent coach and a good man.”

With most of the starting offense and the nucleus of the defense returning, Knox said his successor should be successful.

“Whoever inherits this team is going to have players to work with,” he said.

Knox will inherit free weekends and a much easier time schedule.

When asked what he will do on his now free Friday nights, Knox said, “I’ll be a member of the former Friday night coaches club,” and sit in the stands, he said with a chuckle.

“I know I’m gonna miss it, but I’ll do my best to keep myself occupied and not miss it to a point where it bothers me. I want to enjoy missing it.”

Morgan, the dean of coaches in Warren County, said the district is losing one of the good ones.

“I’ve known him since he started coaching and have grown fond of him as a person,” Morgan said. “There are a lot of coaches in Mississippi who would like to have his record, I know that. … Even through all the heated battles in our rivalry, Coach Knox has been nothing but a gentleman to me, and I hope I’ve been the same to him.”