Carlisle led Murrah to unprecedented success on track, gridiron

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 29, 2004

[3/29/04]Jack Carlisle has coached thousands of young men in football and track over the years, but it was a manager on one of his first teams that stands out.

The year was 1954 at tiny Lula-Rich High near Clarksdale. The Carlisle-coached football team only had 15 players and the school could not afford a bus to take to away games.

The team loaded into five separate cars to make the trip to Oakland High near Batesville.

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletter

Receive daily headlines and obituaries

The entire left side of Carlisle’s starting line broke down on the road and Carlisle was down to 11 players and one manager.

Carlisle asked his young manager to suit up in case of an emergency. The manager said if he could clear it past his mother, Miss Polly, he would suit up.

Carlisle got permission, reluctantly, from Miss Polly, and midway through the game, the team’s best player was hurt and the manager took the field.

A little while later, the manager was knocked out by an opposing player. Miss Polly ran onto the field, taking her son off. A career had ended after less than one game.

Years later, Carlisle noticed his old manager’s picture in the newspaper. It was a grown up Thomas Harris, the Lula-Rich manager who had a playing career of one game, who had just written a novel called “The Silence of the Lambs” which gave birth to the serial killer Hannibal Lecter.

“I went to a reunion about 10 years ago and that came up,” Carlisle said. “I remember Miss Polly taught chemistry.”

Harris was just one of thousands of athletes that Carlisle coached over the years. The zenith of Carlisle’s career in Mississippi sports will be Friday when the Brandon resident is inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame at a banquet at the Vicksburg Convention Center.

“I have a little shop behind my house and I was doing some woodwork when I got the news,” Carlisle said. “I just kept on building.”

Carlisle is happy to be included in the hall, but more importantly it will be who will watch him accept his honor that means the most.

With four children spread across the country, planning full family gatherings can be tedious. But with the induction, three of his four children will be in attendance, and all 10 of his grandchildren will be there.

“I’m getting up there in age and I don’t know how many more times I will get to see them,” said the 74-year-old, who led Murrah High to football and track success not seen after his departure. “My wife is in hog-heaven; it should be really nice.”

Carlisle spent his entire life coaching. Starting as a 22-year-old at Lula Rich, the coach traveled through Mississippi on the prep, junior college and college levels.

His greatest success, though, came on the sidelines of Murrah High. Before the school became known for its basketball prowess, the Mustangs fielded one of the best football teams in the Big Eight Conference.

“We would have 120 or 130 kids out for the team,” Carlisle said. “And they were some great athletes.”

The number would soon diminish after one of Carlisle’s famous summer camps. He would take his players for training camp in northern Simpson County. The drills were brutal, but toughened his team.

“Everyone had to go, and once they got there, they were there,” Carlisle said. “There was no place to go.”

Carlisle said a doctor was on hand at every camp, but it was tough to complete.

“I don’t think we would be able to do it today,” Carlisle said.

The camps toughened his teams and they soon began to dominate. At Murrah, he won eight city championships and Big Eight titles in 1965 and 1970.

The 1965 championship came against Gulfport and Lindy Callahan, who will join Carlisle in Friday’s induction ceremony.

His track teams were even more dominant. Using many of his football players, the track team won seven straight state championships starting in 1962. The last championship came in 1968.

Since then, the football and track teams have fallen behind the field in the Jackson Public Schools. With the additions of several more high schools, and an emphasis on basketball, it is tough for Carlisle to see the state of the once-proud Murrah football program.

“They haven’t won big in years,” Carlisle said. “I saw them play Brandon a couple years ago and they had like five people in the stands. It was pathetic.”

After leaving Murrah at the end of the 1970 school year, he coached at Jackson Prep, then went to Ole Miss and East Tennessee State before returning to Madison-Ridgeland Academy.

Carlisle stayed at MRA for 11 years before starting an amazing string of retirements. He retired from MRA in 1994, then moved to University Christian School as an athletic director the next year.

He stayed there two years, then retired. He came back as an assistant at Jackson Prep in 1997 and retired after one season.

The next season, he became an assistant at East Central Community College for one season before retiring. Stops at Simpson Academy in 1999 led to another retirement. He had a short stop at Millsaps in 2000, but swears now that this is it.

Twenty coaches of the year awards, the nine combined state championships at Murrah and his success on the private school level is enough.

“I have my hobby to keep me busy,” Carlisle said of his woodworking. “It is either that, or I’ll get a divorce,” he added with a chuckle.