Daniel Merchant made believers out of the football players at Oak Hill Academy.
Part of Merchant’s next job could be to help instill that same kind of confidence in the football players at West Lowndes High School.
Merchant, who spent the past two seasons revitalizing the Oak Hill Academy football program, is expected to be named Monday an assistant coach/defensive coordinator for the West Lowndes High football team. Merchant’s hiring won’t become official until it is approved by the Lowndes County School Board, which will meet Monday.
Merchant went 11-12 and guided Oak Hill Academy to the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AA playoffs the past two seasons. The back-to-back playoff appearances were the program’s first since the 1989-90 seasons.
Merchant, who is from Sulligent, Ala., resigned from Oak Hill Academy and considered taking a teaching and coaching job at Sulligent High. But he said he talked with is wife about moving on from Oak Hill Academy and decided the job coaching at West Lowndes High and the position as a science teacher at the alternative school, which will be at West Lowndes Middle School, was a better fit for his family.
“I couldn’t turn it down because it is so close to home and it allows me to get back into the retirement system in Mississippi,” Merchant said. “I am going to miss Oak Hill. I want to thank Mr. (Yandell) Harris, the boys, and the community. I loved the coaching staff. We all worked hard together. It is going to be hard to leave them, but I have to do what is best for my family. I think this is the best situation in my teaching and my coaching career. I am going to miss Oak Hill. They were definitely very good to me.”
Merchant spent the spring of 2012 as a baseball coach at Nettleton High. He also worked for two years as defensive coordinator at Columbus Christian School in Steens, which used to be Immanuel Christian School. He was part of a coaching staff that included head coach Shawn Gates and assistant coach Bubba Davis that helped lead the Rams to the MAIS playoffs in 2010.
Merchant said he is excited about the potential he sees in West Lowndes, which went 4-6 last season under head coach Anthony King in Class 1A of the Mississippi High School Activities Association. King declined to comment about Merchant pending the the school board’s approval of his positions.
Merchant replaced Benjie Merchant at Oak Hill Academy and helped transform a program that was coming off an 0-10 season in 2011. Daniel Merchant was the Raiders’ fourth head coach in six seasons when he arrived. He helped reverse the fortunes of a program that went 7-46 in the previous five years.
“We knew we had to build from the ground up and get back to the fundamentals, make them work hard, and make them do right on and off the field,” Merchant said. “They have some good boys over there, and they responded well to us. We had great continuity between the players and the coaches. They knew what we expected out of them, which made for a smooth transition. I think they turned the corner there. I think coach (Tony) Stanford (who was hired last week to replace Merchant) is going to have success there for years to come.”
Oak Hill Academy defeated Newton County Academy in its season opener in 2012 to snap a 12-game losing streak that dated back to 2010. The team lost to North Delta Academy and Centreville Academy in the playoffs the past two seasons. Merchant praised the seniors at the end of last season for helping to restore the identity of a program that had fallen on hard times. He said his goal is to help the players at West Lowndes High build that same confidence by pushing them to work hard in the weight room and by treating them the right way. He also said he expects the Panthers to change from a three-man defensive front to a four-man front, which is similar to the system he ran at Immanuel Christian School and Oak Hill Academy.
“It is like a burden lifted off your shoulders,” Merchant said of the job opportunity at West Lowndes High and the alternative school. “I am thankful it fell right in my lap. It is a big sigh of relief for sure.
“I think (the transition) is going to go smooth. I think the boys at West Lowndes really want to win and want to work hard. The defense is going to be a little different than what they are used to, but hopefully it will go smooth for them. They have the athletes to do it — and who are willing to do it — and they are working hard. Coach King has them going in the right direction. I am looking forward to working with him to keep it going in the right direction.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.