By Jake Davis
The first year Oxford softball coach says coaching is a calling he answered early in his life. He shares his passion for softball with his father, who coached at East Central High School and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
“My dad got into teaching later in his life and also got into softball,” said Long. “He started the softball program at East Central and then he became the head coach at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College… he’s the winningest JUCO softball coach in Mississippi history.”
Long says his father is a major influence in his life, and is a major reason why he decided to become a softball coach in the first place.
“He got into softball and I kinda followed in his footsteps and have tried to make him proud and be as good a coach as I can be,” Long said.
He got his start at his father’s old stomping grounds of East Central, where he spent 12 successful seasons coaching the Hornets before deciding to make the jump to Oxford.
He said he was beginning to feel restless at East Central after six district championships and two South Half titles, and began looking for new opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Long found that challenge in Oxford, where he took the reigns of a program that has not made it past the second round of the playoffs in over a decade.
“I thought it was a good challenge,” Long said. “I had been at East Central for a long time and I just felt like when you’re somewhere a long time you get a little antsy and start thinking it’s time for a new challenge.”
He says he was drawn to Oxford because of his Ole Miss fandom and the district’s dedication to its athletic programs.
“I’ve always been a big Ole Miss fan, and everybody around the state knows how good the schools are [in Oxford], how good the athletic programs here are, so I just thought it would be a good chance to try a new challenge,” Long said.
The Mississippi native found immediate success in his first season at the helm, guiding the Chargers to an undefeated season in district play and the first district championship in program history.
He refuses to take credit for the quick turnaround he orchestrated however, citing his team’s dedication and tenacity this season as the reason for their immediate success.
“In the end, we really just fill out the lineup cards and they play,” said Long “We don’t swing a bat, we don’t throw a ball. They’re the ones that have to do the job of winning the games. So I’ve always thought that when they win it’s them that should get the credit. I’m just filling out the lineup card and making them laugh every once in a while.”
Long also credited his predecessor, former softball coach and current Co-Activities coordinator Tabitha Beard, for laying the groundwork for success with a young team.
“She laid a great foundation,” Long said of Beard. “The core of our team are sophomores this year, and she kind of took some lumps with them when they were younger and built them up.”
Despite their unprecedented success in the regular season, Long says the team still has unfinished business left in the postseason.
The Chargers reached the second round of the playoffs last year, where they were swept by DeSoto Central. Oxford will look to make history this year as they attempt to reach the North Half final for the first time in school history.
“Just because we had a great season, finished undefeated in district, won the district championship, that’s just a part of the season. We have the postseason too, and we’re gonna work real hard to try and make some noise there.”