• 46°

Lang won’t be on sideline tonight

Bulldogs get ready to face Noxubee County tongiht.(The Vicksburg Post/MARK THORNTON)

[08/31/01]ROLLING FORK While reporters, school administrators and football fans across the Southeast are buzzing about federal indictments and the future of South Delta coach Lynn Lang, Chip Branning has his game face on.

“We were hired to win football games, with or without Coach Lang,” Branning said after a meeting with players on the field after practice Thursday.

Georgia Russell, superintendent of the South Delta School District, told The Commercial Appeal that Lang will not coach tonight. She said the school board would decide his future.

“My recommendation to the board is he will not be coaching at all,” Russell said. “That would be the end of a coaching career.”

Lang and a former assistant surrendered to federal authorities Thursday, a day after they were indicted by a federal grand jury.

Lang, who coached at Trezevant High School before being hired by South Delta in August, was charged in a nine-count indictment of conspiracy, bribery and extortion. Milton Kirk, who was Lang’s assistant at Trezevant, was charged with conspiracy. Both made their first court appearance Thursday and were released on their own recognizance.

Branning, along with fellow assistants Sam McLaurin, Kepatrick Barnes and Keith Lampkin, were doing their best to make it business as usual as the Bulldogs prepared for their season-opener against Noxubee County tonight.

He instructed players not to talk about the controversy, which started after Lang and Kirk were charged with conspiring to steer star player Albert Means to the university offering the most money.

Means went to Alabama originally but transferred to the University of Memphis in January. He left the Crimson Tide after learning Lang and Kirk may have shopped his talents to several schools without his knowledge.

Branning said Lang didn’t talk about the allegations, which were hanging over him before he was hired by South Delta.

“All we know is what we read in the paper,” Branning said.

“We don’t want to talk about anything but football. “We have a chance to have a successful season.”

But there are reminders that football isn’t what’s on the mind of other people in the community and around the rest of the state and Southeast.

TV reporters from Memphis were waiting for coaches as they came off the field and more reporters were arriving after practice.

Pictures and newspaper articles about his days at Trezevant hang on the walls of Lang’s office. There’s a laminated feature story about Means hanging on the bulletin board.

Branning admits that it’s all been a distraction, but he insists that the players’ “attitudes are good.”

“They’re ready to play,” he said. “They’ve got a job to do, and they’re ready to do it.”

A win, Branning said, “would give us a big boost.”

Several seniors stayed on the field and had their own meeting after the coaches left. They chanted and cheered as they left the field.

“We’re taking it as a positive, and still going,” said Sammie Collins, a 6-foot-5, 240-pound senior end. “I think it can bring us together.”

Lang replaced James Denson, who had coached in the school district for 36 years before leaving for Natchez High in April.

“I just hate it for the kids,” Denson said Thursday, adding that he met Lang but doesn’t know him.

He said that having someone like Lang at the school could keep recruiters from visiting South Delta.

“There’s always going to be skepticism around him now,” Denson said.

If convicted on all counts, Lang faces a maximum of 135 years in jail and up to $2.2 million in fines. Kirk would face five years and fines up to $250,000.

Lang will be represented by Memphis attorney A C Wharton and Kirk by attorney Walter Bailey, also of Memphis.

The Associated Press contributed to this story