SCOOBA — When Netflix debuted its docuseries “Last Chance U” last summer, East Mississippi Community College football coach Buddy Stephens didn’t like what he saw.
Stephens knew he needed to make changes in his coaching demeanor and in his personal life. He also found a religious faith after watching the six episodes about EMCC’s 2015 season.
This summer, Stephens has been more upbeat following the release last week of season two of “Last Chance U.” The eight-part series recaps EMCC’s 2016 season.
“There are still massive improvements I need to make,” Stephens said. “Really, I am a mess. … Some of the players who played for me in the early years have called and told me I am soft now. After a tumultuous 2015, we tried to pamper the season along in 2016. You really have to have a good year.
“I am thankful for this opportunity. It has shown me what I need to change. When it comes to coaching and winning, we still have an agenda. Our agenda is to win and help raise young men. I am much more at ease than I was a year ago when I watched the first season.”
In 2015, EMCC finished 8-1 after a brawl against Mississippi Delta C.C. in the regular-season finale ended the campaign. “Last Chance U” had extensive footage of the fight, which served as a backdrop for the story of redemption last season.
In 2016, EMCC finished second nationally. It won its final 11 games after dropping the season opener at Jones County Junior College. EMCC dressed only 32 players for the game (due to suspensions from the brawl), but the game wasn’t decided until a failed two-point conversion attempt in the final minutes.
“They did a good job of highlighting the kids,” Stephens said. “They centered on a few people and did a better job of showing more personality. They showed the guys from challenging backgrounds. I think they know what attracted the audience the first time, so there was more interaction with certain kids. You really got to know them.”
Dakota Allen was one of the Big 12 Conference leaders in tackles as a freshman at Texas Tech. Allen was removed from the team after his first season after being arrested and charged with armed robbery.
In the second season of “Last Chance U,” Allen’s road back to the national spotlight is featured. He tutored fellow players in math classes and had a religious awakening that featured his baptism being shown in the docuseries.
“It makes you feel good,” Stephens said. “When you step back and see that type of impact, that is why we are here. That is what we are supposed to do. People met Dakota but for every Dakota, there are 100 other stories just like that taking place around our league.”
Allen has returned to Texas Tech. Quarterback De’Andre Johnson overcame being kicked off the team at Florida State and is at Florida Atlantic after an All-America season at EMCC. Chauncey Rivers is at Mississippi State and after being kicked off the Georgia team. Kam Carter is at Pittsburgh after he was dismissed from Penn State.
“I think that is what people do not realize some time.” Stephens said. “We may have as many as 15 or 20 players who have overcome a rough spot in life to make it to our campus. We don’t have them four years like a senior college. In some cases, it is two years, and in some cases, it could be as little as six months.
“We have to have tough love, and we have to have it from day one. It can’t be a weed-out process. It has to work from the beginning.”
Stephens said he regretted exchanges with former defensive coordinator Ed Holly and former offensive coordinator Marcus Wood in the docuseries. He said sometimes interactions with coaches were edited a certain way and lacked proper context for the viewers.
“They have made me out to be the villain in the series,” Stephens said. “I get that. I understand that. Every film needs a villain of some sort. Sometimes some things are misunderstood.”
EMCC will debut new coordinators (David Boykin on offense and Cliff Collins on defense) when the 2017 season opens Aug. 31 against JCJC at Sullivan-Windham Field.
What isn’t clear is whether Netflix will be involved. Those affiliated with the series have indicated a third season is in the works but that another school most likely will be featured.
“We would love to have them back,” Stephens said. “I have received 80 emails today. Around 75 of them have been positive. A lot of military people have written in and said this is the kind of discipline young people today need.
“It is a tremendous recruiting advantage for our program. We appeared in 82 million home last season. Think of another athletic program — even on the senior college level — that has had that kind of exposure.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
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