Like a package delayed in the mail, a late Christmas gift arrived Thursday for Choctaw fans. Mississippi College athletic director Mike Jones announced that John Bland will lead the Choctaws as the next head football coach.
“Coach Bland will be a fine fit for Mississippi College, his experience and credentials are excellent,” said Mississippi College President Lee Royce.
Bland’s coaching history is all but flavorless. As head coach at the University of the Cumberlands for the past eight seasons, he led the NAIA team to a 70-21 record, qualifying for postseason play six times. Bland’s strongest season at UC concluded Saturday with a loss in the NAIA national championship game. That was the Patriots’ lone loss of the season.
“John Bland exemplifies everything we were searching for,” said Jones. “We are very excited to have John Bland be the head coach of our football program as we head into this new era, with our institution moving to Division II and the Gulf South Conference.”
“We are now excited to begin this new era in Mississippi College football,” said Bland. “I feel like this is a great opportunity, and we are excited as a family to begin this new journey in our lives.”
Despite spending the last eight years in the NAIA, Bland has big-time college experience. After a successful High School career in Knoxville, Tenn., Bland was a four-year letterman at the University of Arkansas. He played both quarterback and defensive back, and was elected team captain for the 1988 season, when the team went 10-2 and finished the season with a #8 ranking, and a trip to the Cotton Bowl.
After his eligibility expired, Bland stayed at Arkansas to complete his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, and remained involved with the football team as a student assistant.
Following his time at Arkansas, Bland bolstered his resume with a master’s degree, also in kinesiology, from Auburn University. During his time at Auburn, Bland served as a graduate assistant under College Football Hall of Fame coach Pat Dye.
Bland later spent seven seasons at Southern Arkansas, earning the head coach spot in 2000. Bland then left to become the quarterbacks coach at Rice University, where he remained until reentering head coaching at UC.
“We went into this process looking for someone that would meet the mission of Mississippi College,” said Jones, “and have a track record of winning.”
Bland’s win of the MC coaching spot is just his latest victory. There were over 40 candidates for the spot of head coach, after the position opened on November 19th when Norman Joseph stepped down.
“We understand the importance of making a swift decision so that the recruiting process will not be hindered.” Jones said on that day. The decision was made quickly, merely 25 business days after Joseph relinquished his job. “We want to go into the Gulf South Conference next season and be able to compete as quickly as possible, and we know how important football is to that process.”
A press conference will be held on January 2nd to allow the press and community to meet Bland. His control of the program starts immediately.
– Andy O’Brien, Sports Editor