Long-time assistant Stevens among finalists for Vicksburg’s top job

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 9, 2001

[04/09/01] Vicksburg High’s program may get a new face in 10 days.

Or it could have an old face at a new desk.

Alonzo Stevens, a VHS assistant for a total of 18 years, is one of four finalists to become the Gators’ next head coach.

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Willie Collins of Provine, Roy McCrory of Columbus and Willie Young of Velma Jackson are also in the running to fill the position vacated by James Knox last month.

All four were interviewed for a second time on Friday.

None of the other three current VHS assistants who applied for the job got follow-up interviews. Defensive coordinator Robert Erves, Bobby Huell and Jackie Williamson were among the 30 coaches to apply for the position Knox held for the last 12 years.

A seven-man search committee interviewed 12 candidates last week, then narrowed the field to four. The finalists were interviewed by administrators on Friday. Knox’s successor is expected to be offered the job this week, pending approval at the April 19 school board meeting.

“I didn’t need a tour,” Stevens said with a laugh.

“I’ve been blessed to be around this program since it started,” added Stevens, the only Vicksburg native among the finalists. “I’ve seen the program at its zenith and at its lowest.

“I’ve always wanted to be a head coach here. My heart is here. I’ve done everything a good assistant can do.”

Stevens, 48, has been defensive coordinator and offensive coordinator for the Gators, as well as head boys and girls track coach, soccer coach and boys basketball coach.

His defenses in the late ’70s are considered among the best ever at VHS and his offenses have been among the highest scoring in Class 5A the last two years.

Stevens played at the now-defunct Temple High during a stretch when the team went 28-2-2 before going on to star at Alcorn State 1971-73 as an offensive guard and linebacker.

An injury ended his NFL hopes in the Baltimore Colts’ camp, so he decided to go into coaching. He went 9-1 his first and only year as ninth-grade coach at McCall in Tallulah, then came back to Vicksburg. He went to Alcorn as Cardell Jones’ offensive line coach and helped the Braves win two Southwestern Athletic Conference titles.

“Being able to see both sides is a blessing because of Coach Jones,” said Stevens, who has his master’s degree in biology and athletic administration. “He let me coach.”

Stevens said that being a part of the program should be considered an advantage.

“We were seven and four last year and we have a good nucleus coming back,” he said. “I think we’re about to turn the corner.”

Collins, 47, has led the Rams to the Class 5A state championship game twice while amassing a 75-38 record in nine years as head coach. He has been at the Jackson school for a total of 19 years.

“Vicksburg has always been one of the premier programs in the state,” said Collins, a Jackson native who played at Forest Hill and Jackson State. “It has to be one of the more attractive jobs in the state.”

Collins was a graduate assistant at JSU, where he was on a staff that included ex-VHS coaches Houston Markham, Jones and former Temple coach W.C. Gorden. He had short stints as an assistant at Brandon and Forest Hill before landing at Provine.

He is known as a disciplinarian.

“I think there are some things that could be done to put Vicksburg back where it’s supposed to be,” said Collins, whose team went to the title game in 1994 and 1999.

The Gators have not won a playoff game since 1993 and they have beaten archrival Warren Central just once in the 20-year series.

“I haven’t decided if I would take the job. I have a lot of things to consider,” Collins said, noting that he and his wife Jane have a son, Monte, who is a highly touted 6-foot-7, 350-pound junior lineman at Provine.

McCrory, 45, has established Columbus as a power in his four years as head coach. He took a program that had gone 8-48-1 in the six years before his arrival and turned it into a winner. Last season, the Falcons went 10-3 with wins over defending state champion Madison Central and perennial power Tupelo.

“Vicksburg has the potential to be a great program,” said McCrory, a native of Ethel in Attala County who has been in coaching for 22 years. “There’s no sense in Vicksburg not being competitive.”

McCrory was an assistant at Noxapater for 10 years during a time that its worst record was 7-3. From there, he went to Forest and helped Jack French win a 3A state championship. He was also head baseball coach at both schools.

McCrory’s first football head-coaching job was a rebuilding project at Newton, which went 1-10 the year before he arrived. He took the team to back-to-back South State championship games and finished 11-2 twice.

“I’m going to build a program,” said McCrory, who coached in the state all-star baseball team in 1993 and the Bernard Blackwell all-star football game in 1997. “You have to come in and change attitudes, work ethic and habits.”

He and his wife Linda have a daughter, Audrey, who is a sophomore at Southern Mississippi and a son, Bob, who is a freshman pitcher at USM.

Young, 52, also turned around a struggling program. Velma Jackson hadn’t won a game in four years before he arrived 11 years ago. The Falcons have been to the 3A playoffs the last five seasons, a 49-11 run. They were 8-4 last year with nine freshman starters.

“We’ve planted a seed … but there comes a time that a coach would like to go to another level,” said Young, who played on a black national championship team at Alcorn State in 1968 and was an offensive lineman on the Super Bowl VIII champion Miami Dolphins in 1974.

“We had good men young men … they just needed guidance from someone who’s been there,” said Young, a native of Union Church in Jefferson County who grew up in Jackson and played at Brinkley High before a seven-year stint in the NFL.

He lives in Jackson and his son, Willie Jr., is a senior at Velma Jackson.

“I can’t take all of the credit” for the turnaround, Young said. “We’ve had a lot of great athletes. They just needed to be guided. You have to lay down the law … tell them that the door they came through opens the same way to go out.”

Young said that he learned a lot playing for coaches such as Marino Casem, John Madden and Don Shula.

“I’m used to winning,” he said. “It’s in my blood.”