MACON — There are no signs of toothpicks.
The office is spotless. A football decoration adorned with flowers occupies a central spot on the desk in the room.
The orderly state of affairs comes naturally to Tyrone Shorter.
If you needed any proof, you need only look at the success of the Noxubee County High School football program this season.
The Tigers (12-1) have continued to roll along in Shorter”s first season as head coach after the departure of veteran coach M.C. Miller to Louisville High. Miller guided the Tigers to the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A title game in 2007 and helped the football program win its first state championship in 2008.
Miller took his trademark straw hat and toothpicks with him, but Shorter has stepped in nicely and used the solid support of a coaching staff that mixes old and new to put the Tigers in position to win another championship.
A victory at 7 p.m. Friday against Shannon would help Noxubee County advance to the Class 4A North State title game and play host to the winner of the Lafayette County-New Albany game.
Shorter, who is in his 12th year as coach at Noxubee County High, has blended the talents of veteran offensive coordinator James Patterson and second-year coach George Richardson, the defensive coordinator, with a staff of contract and volunteer coaches that includes M.C. Taylor, Michael Ashford, Montez Miller, Anthony King, the former head coach at East Oktibbeha County High, Johnathan Hunter, Gary Naylor, Mike Ashford Sr., Curtis Bush, and Ken Oliver.
Together, the coaches have maintained the level of excellence M.C. Miller helped build at the school and have tweaked the formula to ensure the winning continues.
“I know a head coach can only be successful if he has good people around him,” Shorter said. “For us to keep this program going, we had to bring good coaches in here.”
Shorter targeted coaches he thought would fit in, and started Ashford Jr. as offensive line coach. He said he called him every day until he was able to secure a commitment. He then contacted coach King, who was able to move to the school when a position came open at the school.
“The coaching staff works in good harmony with each other,” Shorter said. “The coaches bought into what I wanted to do differently.”
Richardson, who has coached football at Crenshaw High in Los Angeles and several high schools in the state of Alabama, doesn”t mind being the coach on the staff who wears the black hat. He usually can be found exhorting and pushing the Tigers through conditioning drills in the school”s weight room. The former Fresno State and Alabama A&M player now works as defensive coordinator for the Tigers. He works closely with Shorter, who served in that capacity under M.C. Miller, and has helped produce a unit that has two shutouts and has allowed only 90 points.
“We have become a little more active in monitoring the kids and doing extra work with the kids and watching more film,” Richardson said. “Whatever we have done in the past we have increased that.”
Richardson said it is easier to coach when he has smarter football players, so he has enjoyed helping prepare the players for game plans and for schemes each week. He also relishes his work as task master in the team”s conditioning work.
“We have a real smooth working relationship,” Richardson said of the coaches. “This is one of the better staffs I have been on in the past five years or so. Everybody knows their role.”
Richardson said the continuity the coaches have developed comes from the example Shorter has helped set.
Patterson, who started working in the school system in 1979, said things haven”t changed much with Shorter leading the program. Patterson started as a volunteer and never imagined he would get involved in coaching and teaching, but he said both have grown on him.
“I think coach Patterson is one of the best offensive coordinators around,” Shorter said.
Patterson and Shorter have worked closely for years with the junior high program and the freshmen and have continued their partnership on the varsity. Patterson, whose son, Patrick, was a standout wide receiver at Noxubee County, admits he is more of a risk taker who likes to throw the ball around the field, but he has tailored the team”s offense more to its strengths — a stable of running backs and a stout, experienced offensive line — this season. The result has been equally impressive, just as long as the Tigers can hang on to the football. Turnovers nearly ended their season last week in a 12-6 victory against Center Hill.
“It is the same as usual for me,” Patterson said of how Shorter runs the program. “I can”t tell the difference (between the coaches). He really lets you do what you need to do as a coach.”
Patterson said Miller didn”t get in the way of him doing his job. He said Miller was more of a defensive oriented coach who didn”t want Patterson to put the ball in harm”s way.
Keeping the ball on the ground hasn”t been an adjustment this season, Patterson said, because the Tigers always have tried to tailor their offense to the skills of their players.
Patterson said the coaches use the same approach to working together. He said all of the coaches get along and are working toward the same goal: To help the Tigers win.
“We expect it out of ourselves, even when we were losing,” Patterson said. “We always thought we had the talent here. … Now the guys go out on the field they expect to win. That makes a big difference.”
Patterson said the coaches set that standard at the junior high level and it has been contagious as the players have gotten older.
Young or old, Shorter said the coaches will continue to keep that bar at a high level. He said it is gratifying so many talented coaches have come to Noxubee County High, and he will do his best to keep them on staff as long as possible.
“The guys I have on the coaching staff believe in me, and I believe in them, and we”re getting the job done,” Shorter said.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.