The year was 1975. It was an exciting year for sports. The Pittsburgh Steelers won their first Super Bowl. John Wooden won his last NCAA men’s basketball title at UCLA. The Cincinnati Reds scored the winning run in the ninth inning to beat the Boston Red Sox in Game 7 of the World Series.
And here in Mississippi, there were a pair of 25 year olds making their debuts as high school football coaches.
After two seasons of being an assistant, Bill Hurst began his first season as head coach at Centreville Academy. After four years as assistant, the last three at Kosciusko, Ricky Black became head coach. They both had great seasons in their first years. Centreville went 10-1 and Kosciusko went 9-2.
“The thing I most remember about that first season is we lost to ACCS (Adams County Christian School) 28-0,” said Hurst, who had to look up in an annual to find out that they beat Pearl River Academy 62-0 in his first game. “I remember I was nervous before that first game as a head coach. We had a good season.”
“I lost my first game to Starkville, something like 34-20, but we came back and beat Clinton 27-0 the next week at home,” Black said. “I remember the players picked me up after the game and I rode on their shoulders off the field.”
Remarkably, the duo is still coaching high school football and not only that they are the two winningest coaches in Mississippi high school football history. Hurst has 401 wins, all of them at Centreville. Black has 383, 49 at Kosciusko High, 89 at Tupelo High and the last 245 at Jackson Prep. Both took breaks from being a head coach. Hurst took a two-year break (1996-97) to watch his son, Brian, play football at Southwest Community College. Black took a six-year break (1991-96) to be an assistant coach for Jackie Sherrill at Mississippi State.
In this age of technology where the majority of the world has cell phones, neither Hurst nor Black does. And while the majority of America is getting rid of its land lines at home, both Hurst and Black still have theirs. In addition, both have wives (Pat Hurst and Linda Black) who haven’t missed a game that their husbands have coached. Now that’s dedication.
Lamar School coach Mac Barnes — who himself has 315 high school wins in his 39th season as a head coach, the first 20 at Meridian High and the last 19 at Lamar — probably knows Hurst and Black better than any other coach in the state. Barnes and Hurst have become good friends from their connection in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools since Barnes retired from Meridian and came over to Lamar, also in Lauderdale County, in 2000. Barnes and Black knew each other when Barnes was coaching at Meridian and Black was at Tupelo.
“Both Bill and Ricky are no nonsense football coaches,” Barnes said. “They are old school. They have adopted to some of the changes in football, but they are both still very disciplined. You don’t mess around in their programs. That’s why they both have been so successful. Discipline and hard work. They are two of the best. They both are legends and well respected.
“I will tell you another thing about both of those guys. They have a tremendous amount of compassion for the fellow man like me. I have had eye surgery, knee replacement and hip replacement over the past year. And both of those guys have called me repeatedly to check up on me and see how I was doing. Now, both of them are very busy, but to take time of their day to check on me shows me what type of men of character they are. It’s not just by accident they are two winningest coaches in Mississippi history.”
“Coach Hurst loves his players and expects the best out of them,” said Brian Stutzman, who played for Hurst from 1987-90 and won a state title in ’89 and coached with Hurst from ’97-2014. Stutzman has been the head coach at Parklane Academy in McComb for the past four seasons.
“He instilled in us that you put God first and family second in your life. Coach Hurst is a great coach and motivator. He was my second dad after mine passed away in 2002.”
“I attribute much of Coach Black’s success to his attention to detail when it comes to his program,” said Will Crosby, who was on Black’s coaching staff at Prep from 1997-2014 and has been Prep’s athletic director since 2004. “There are things that probably seem unimportant or insignificant to many, but that’s not how Coach Black operates.”
Hurst’s dad (Lea Fulton Hurst, who passed away at age 94 in 2012) was a pulpwood man and cattle farmer. Even when times were tough, Hurst’s dad made sure he fed his family (wife, Hazel, and children, Bill, brothers Cliff and Roger and his sisters Dorothy and Bonnie). Bill Hurst was taught by his dad that you worked hard and worked long to be successful. Hurst graduated from Clinton (La.) High School and played guard on their football team. But he said he wasn’t good enough to play college football. He went to Southwest Mississippi Community College, LSU, Louisiana-Lafayette and graduated from Southeastern Louisiana. After graduating college, he met his Pat on a blind date and they were married in 1971. Hurst got a chance to get a job at Centreville because the school board president, Dr. Bill Craft, knew Hurst’s dad and they hired him as a teacher and assistant coach. Hurst took over as head coach for Mike Mullens two years later.
Black grew up in Ackerman with his father, Leonard, his mom, Beatrice, his older twin brothers, Jerry and Gary, and his younger sister, Regena. Leonard was in the construction business and Jerry and Gary worked in it once they finished school. Leonard passed away in 2002 and Beatrice in 2004. Black played quarterback at Ackerman High and at Holmes Community College. Black met his wife Linda at Holmes CC in 1968 and they were married in 1969. Black graduated from Mississippi State in 1971 and went back home and got a job as head track coach and assistant football coach at his alma mater, Ackerman. Ackerman head coach Art Nester took the job at Kosciusko and Black went with him. Three years later, Nester left Kosciusko for rival Louisville and Black took over as head coach.
Both Hurst and Black have been consistent winners through the last five decades. Hurst has won state championships at the Class A, AA and AA level of MAIS, winning a total of nine titles, the first one in 1976 and the last in 2014. Black has an amazing 89.1 winning percentage in his first job at Kosciusko, then won 74 percent of his games at Tupelo and had a Class 5A state runner up finish in 1990 to Barnes and Meridian. And now Black has won 13 state titles at Prep, including a current string of Mississippi record seven consecutive. Black was named the National High School Coaches Association National Coach of the Year in 2018 and was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame this year.
Hurst and Black don’t talk much during the year, but always see each other at the MAIS state track meet each spring and catch up. They have played each other only twice, both winning once. Centreville won 20-14 in 1998 and Prep won 24-7 in 1999.
Hurst became the winningest coach in Mississippi history in 2013 when he passed Jim Drewry. Drewry won 346 games from 1958-2009 at Kossuth, Booneville and Tishomingo. Black passed Drewry in 2016 and has been chasing Hurst ever since. Since Hurst won his ninth title and won 14 games in 2014, Black has 18 more victories than Hurst over the past four seasons.
Hurst and Black — who are both 70 years old — aren’t setting a date on retirement, saying as long as they are healthy they will be on the sidelines, coaching their respective teams. Hurst had heart surgery in the summer of 2013 and didn’t miss a game and had prostate surgery this summer and is ready to go this season. He has stepped away from his long time role as head of school and athletic director at Centreville several years ago and is just focusing on being the football coach. He makes the 15-minute trip from his home three miles south of the Mississippi-Louisiana state line to Centreville most every day for practice. Other than a case of West Nile virus in 2012, Black hasn’t had any serious health problems. Black, who lives in Northeast Jackson to takes the 20-minute trip to Flowood every day, has kept the same schedule since he came to Prep in 1997. Black gets to school around 7:30 a.m. every weekday and oversees the football program in addition to teaching driver’s education.
Hurst and Black have not only picked up a lot of wins over the years, but their families have grown as well. Hurst has two daughters, Kimberly and Kelly, one son Brian and five grandchildren, Lexlea, John Austin, Kinslea, Karson and Luke. Black has one daughter, Paige, and two grandchildren, Grayson and Haze.
Both are expected to have good teams again this year. Centreville opens up Friday night with a home game against New Orleans Home School and Prep opens up Friday night with a road game with Heritage Academy in Columbus. And Hurst and Black will bring the same discipline and hard work to their respective teams just like they’ve done since they started in 1975.
“I’ve always wanted our kids to be successful in life so I’m hard on them while they are playing football for me,” Hurst said. “Life can be hard sometimes. Things aren’t always going to go your way. When you make a mistake, you are going to pay the price for it.”
“Our statement is understanding is the greatest thing in the world,” Black said. “Whether it be in a marriage, a business or on a team, when you understand, you can get it done.”
Both Hurst and Black have gotten it done in the world of Mississippi high school football like no one else in history.