By Robert Wilson
J.J. Plummer can’t count the number of football games he has watched his dad Johnny coach, played in or coached himself, but he does know he’s been a part of football since he was born 47 years ago.
That’s why when J.J. said Friday night was one of the best nights in his life you know it is special.
Plummer, along with his 83-year-old dad by his side, made his debut as Richland High School’s head coach and defeated St. Andrew’s 26-13 to break Richland’s 13-game losing streak. Even more significant, Plummer won against a team where he coached for five years and also won at the field where he coached.
“I’ve been a part of tons of games during my lifetime, but doing what we did was something else,” Plummer said. “There was so much energy and excitement at the game. I think the whole town of Richland was shut down because our stands were full and people were lined down our fence. People here were starving for a win. It had been a while.
“It was odd going back to St. Andrew’s because I knew several of the administrators, teachers there and some of the players I coached were there. I’m sure they were trying to do their best to beat me. When I was at St. Andrew’s, we beat Richland both we played them. It was thrilling to see our players at Richland have success and win last week.”
It was also special to have his dad by his side again at another school.
“This is the 22nd year my dad has helped me,” said J.J., who has been a head coach at Porter’s Chapel Academy (two years), Lamar School (two years), North Pontotoc (one year), St. Andrew’s (five years) and Terry (five years). “My dad was defensive coordinator at all the places where I have coached, but he’s just been a team consultant for the past few years, giving valuable advice and opinions to me and my assistant coaches and also helping us with formations. It’s a blessing to have him around helping me.”
Johnny Plummer and his wife Kay moved from Madison to Winona three years ago to get closer to Kay’s family. So Johnny lives with J.J. during the football season. This is Johnny Plummer’s 55thyear of coaching. He has been the head coach at Delta State and Northeast Mississippi Community College and at high schools at Corinth, Leakesville, Cleveland, Greenville Washington, Madison St. Joe and Woodland Hills Baptist Academy. He won 202 games during his career. Plummer was also on Emory Bellard’s staff at Mississippi State. Plummer retired in 1997, but has helped his son ever since.
“I go to practice every day, then after practice on Thursday I go back to Winona and stay there with Kay,” Johnny Plummer said. “Then Kay and I will go to J.J.’s game on Friday night. I’m very proud of him. The kids have come a long way from this spring. It was a joy to watch them win Friday night. I was glad I was a part of it.”
When Plummer came to Richland from Terry this spring he had quite a rebuilding project on his hands.
“The players had lost for a while so the first thing we had to do was instill a winning attitude, hard work and discipline into the program,” said J.J. Plummer, who played at Madison St. Joseph and Pearl River Community College and was an assistant coach at Mississippi State, Hinds Community College and Woodland Hills before becoming a head coach. “We knew we might lose some players because they weren’t used to the hard work and discipline they were going to have to do, but the ones who stuck it out would be rewarded. We had some tough spring workouts and we continued that into the off-season this summer.
“We have a new weight room that looks like a junior college weight room. We have a new locker room that looks like a nice high school or college locker room. We have 60 new stadium seats. We instilled pride back into the program.”
And all the work paid off in the opener. Senior running back Christian Benton gained 192 yards on 21 carries and junior quarterback Shane Wingate, a transfer from Hartfield Academy, ran for two touchdowns. Center Nick Rambo led the offensive line as the Rangers produced more than 300 rushing yards and almost 400 total yards. Senior linebacker Jayden Pilcher, junior linebacker Gentry Davis and junior defensive back Malachi Newell powered the Richland defense.
Richland hadn’t won a game since a 18-16 victory over Raymond in 2017. It has been 19 seasons – a 10-2 record and a district title under coach Douglas Holder in 2000 – since the Rangers have had a winning season. But Plummer has plans to change that. Richland goes for its second straight victory Friday night when it hosts New Orleans Home School at Richland. The last time Richland won two straight games was in 2016 with wins over McLaurin and Lake. The Rangers last non-losing season was 2014 when they started off 4-0 and finished 6-6.
“I told the guys at practice Monday it was time to come back down to Earth,” said J.J. Plummer, who credits offensive coordinator Todd Montgomery, defensive coordinator Will Hedgepeth and strength and conditioning coach Shane Wingate, whose son is the quarterback, as instrumental in the team’s success. “We had a great win, but it was time Monday to get back to work. We’ve got more games we want to win starting this Friday night.”
“During the hiring process we interviewed some great coaches and they were very qualified to lead a football team. However after spending some time with JJ It was evident to me that he was the guy to lead the Richland Ranger Football Program,” Richland principal Scott Rimes said. “My biggest challenge was to convince him of what I already knew and had experienced as the head baseball coach and principal, that Richland HS could win! I knew from the start Coach Plummer had the motivation, excitement and the experience to turn struggling programs around. He knows how to handle kids and understands what it takes to motivate kids to be winners. He absolutely fit the type of teacher and coach that I want to have in my building with my kids. JJ and Coach Johnny have brought a sense of hard work and family to the program.”
“Coach Plummer said if you want something in life you just have to want it more than the person next to you,” said Richland senior offensive tackle Gabe Denham, who is also a captain. “I learned from Coach Johnny that no matter how old you are or how old your children are, you are still a parent and can support them in their careers.”
Even when the dad is 83 and the son is 47. The Plummers are great examples of that.