March 10, 2018 11:00:57 PM
Former South Panola High School football coach Lance Pogue knew Eric Rice could be a star in the coaching profession after they worked together for four seasons in Batesville.
"Energetic, hard-working, detail-oriented," Pogue said. "The main thing is he can relate to the kids. Football teams are large. You have to have that personal connection with each and every player. You have to have their best interests in mind. He is great at relating to players."
Rice will put all of those traits to good use this fall when he takes over the football program at Columbus High. The Columbus Municipal School District Board of Trustees approved the hiring Thursday night.
"Very excited for this opportunity," Rice said. "The Golden Triangle area has already played great football. It's our job now to find a way to get Columbus in that mix on an annual basis."
Rice replaces Randal Montgomery, who was 20-26 in four seasons with the Falcons. Headed to a coaching position at Louisville High, Montgomery led the Falcons to back-to-back Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A playoff berths in 2015 and 2016.
Those were rare highlights in a program that has struggled to gain traction and stability over the years.
"The challenge is get to more people involved in the football program," Rice said. "We are going to have student-athletes who are winners in the classroom and winners in the community. Football is the way we prepare these young men for the future. It's not all about wins and losses, It's about being successful in life.
"At the same time, we want to field a competitive football team on an annual basis."
Rice played two seasons at B.L. Moor High and two seasons at Starkville High before a four-year playing career at Ole Miss from 2000-04.
The coaching career soon followed with one season at Lafayette, two seasons at North Panola, four seasons at South Panola, and the last six seasons as a head coach in the Benton County School District.
With his ties to the Golden Triangle, Rice is aware of the history of the Columbus program.
"To be successful in 6A you have to build from the ground up," Rice said. "I am looking forward to meeting with the middle school coaches and putting a plan in place that goes from the early years through high school. We will teach the same fundamentals and the same schemes. Building the numbers in the middle school program is the foundation."
While South Panola has been the standard in Class 6A football since the turn of the century, Rice plans to use some of that program's same core values.
"There will be a lot of what coach Pogue did in what we do," Rice said. "You can't argue with the success of the South Panola program. Each coach approaches their program is a new, unique way. I can't help but being influence by my time at South Panola. It was very enriching on so many levels."
With the middle of March being a later time than usual for a coaching hire, Rice admits he is a "little behind the 8-ball." Rice quickly adds that a lot of hard work can get the Falcons' program back on track.
The first task involves completing a coaching staff. After that, it will be breaking down the film from a year ago and evaluating the returning personnel.
Columbus finished 2-9 and 1-6 in MHSAA Class 6A, Region 1 play in 2017.
Rice will lead the team through spring drills starting in late April. No opponent for a spring game has been finalized. That is also on the to-do list.
"He will work hard every day on the job," Pogue said. "Columbus hit a home-run hire. They are going to be amazed."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
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