By Robert Wilson
Chuck Box was coaching Hartfield Academy in a MAIS state championship series last year.
Box is now trying to help Texas A&M win a national championship.
Box is in his first year as director of player and program development at Texas A&M, which is playing in the College World Series in Omaha.
Box left Hartfield when first-year Texas A&M head coach Jim Schlossnagle – who Box had a long relationship with since Schlossnagle’s days as head coach at Texas Christian University – asked Box to join his staff in College Station. Schlossnagle led TCU to five College World Series, including four straight from 2014-2017. Box and Schlossnagle met through a mutual friend years ago and kept in touch over the years. Schlossnagle is one of 14 coaches who have now taken multiple teams to the CWS.
“My job is to help each player, coach and staff member become the very best version of themselves,” Box said. “I work closely with Coach Schlossnagle on every aspect of the program, and I am the liaison to high school coaches, facilities, academics, nutrition, and assist with recruiting.”
Box’s influence on the players and coaches helped carry Texas A&M to a SEC West championship, a No. 5 national seed, regional and super regional titles and a berth in the CWS for the first time since 2017. The Aggies made a dramatic turnaround this season after finishing 29-27 overall, 9-21 in the SEC and last in the SEC West in 2021. Texas A&M has a 43-19 overall record and 19-11 in the SEC this season, second best in the league to No. 1 national seed Tennessee.
Texas A&M eliminated Texas 10-2 Sunday afternoon and plays Notre Dame Tuesday at 1 p.m. in an elimination game in the CWS.
“This group is one of the most resilient groups I have been associated with in my 30 years of coaching,” Box said. “They never quit. Our staff has also done an amazing job of consistently working and improving. We have done an excellent job of playing to the standard and not the scoreboard all year.”
Box went to Texas A&M after four years at Hartfield where he had two state championship runner-up finishes. He guided the Hawks to a school record 35 victories and only four losses and their second appearance in the MAIS Class 4A state championship series in 2021. Hartfield lost its first two games of the season to Starkville Academy and MAIS Class 5A state champion Jackson Prep before going on their school record 34-game winning streak. Hartfield fell three wins short of tying the MAIS record of most consecutive wins in a season, 37 set by Magnolia Heights in 2013. Before coming to Hartfield, Box won 283 games and six state championships in 10 seasons at Jackson Prep.
Box has more than a decade of college experience. He was the head coach at Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.) University and Itawamba Community College for a combined 11 seasons where he won 363 games. Box, a 1991 Freed-Hardeman graduate and a 2010 Freed-Hardeman Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, guided his alma mater to a 44-10 record and a TranSouth Conference regular season championship and was ranked as high as No. 7 the national NAIA coaches poll in 1997. He also led Itawamba to a No. 1 national ranking in 2000 and a state junior college championship.
Even though Box is several hours away from Mississippi, he stays in touch with his friends back home.
“I really miss my Jackson people,” Box said. “We had an amazing 15 years there in Jackson and have so many incredible friends in Mississippi. I talk to several of them fairly often, especially Justin (Smith, who was promoted from assistant coach to head coach to replace Box at Hartfield). He and I talk a good bit. I have followed Hartfield very closely and think he did an incredible job with that team. It is difficult to have that many injuries, especially to key players, and still have the success that they had. Hartfield is a special place and I needed it more than it needed me.”
College baseball is different than high school, Box said.
“Everything is faster,” Box said. “The speed of the game, the training, practice, the way information is processed, the daily schedule in general. It never stops. But in the end, it is just baseball. It is still about pitching, playing catch, putting together quality at bats – swinging at strikes and taking balls – and relationships.”
Box made his coaching stamp on Mississippi and his influence has continued after his departure to Texas.
“I’m grateful for the work Chuck did at Hartfield,” Hartfield head of school David Horner said. “Chuck is one of the most focused and hardworking people I’ve ever worked with. His efforts during his use at Hartfield were critical in raising the standard of athletics. Chuck made an impact in many ways at Hartfield. Certainly, one of them was a tremendous improvement in our athletic facilities and baseball field specifically. He took great pride in creating one of the most beautiful baseball facilities for high schools in our area, maybe even the state. He also challenged our student athletes to think and expand their mindset and approach in ways they hadn’t before.
“Chuck played a major part and positive role in preparing Justin Smith for the role he has now as our head coach. They’re different coaches with different styles, but it’s impossible to be around Coach Box as an assistant and not be impacted.”
“Coach Box is the best,” said Smith, who was Hartfield’s associate head coach for three seasons with Box before taking over last season. “He is one of the main reasons I stayed in coaching when I got started. He took the time to mentor me in the areas of coaching that most don’t think about by just playing and knowing the game. Ultimately, working with Coach Box equipped me with skills and knowledge that one could not require elsewhere. I’m just thankful for the time that I was blessed with to have worked with Coach Box. He and I talk once or twice a week. It’s great to have that connection now with an SEC staff. I’m always curious on certain baseball things how they do it or if there is something new or creative that I can do at the high school level. For me, knowing Coach Box and knowing a little about the staff at Texas A&M, I am not surprised that they are in the College World Series in Year One.”
“Coach Box was a huge impact in my life, not just from a baseball standpoint,” said Colton Bradley, who played for Box and graduated from Hartfield this spring. “He’s one of those guys that you love to be on your team and hate playing against him. I know this from experience because when I was playing at East Rankin Academy, I always dreaded playing against Coach Box. One of my favorite things about Coach Box is that if you ask him a question, he is going to tell you straight up. I remember in the 10th grade, Coach Box sat me down and told me that I needed to learn how to hit, or I would never make it in college baseball. And it seemed to work because next year he finally told me I was a college hitter.”
“Coach Box is a player’s coach,” said Lincoln Sheffield, who like Bradley also played for Box and graduated from Hartfield this spring. “He’s not only one of the best high school coaches, he also is a mentor to all his players. He cared a lot about how we grow as men through our years in his program. Coach Box is that coach that always is at the school doing something to try to better the program. You could go up there on a Sunday at 4 and he would be sitting in his office working on a plan for practiced a month from now. He always would work with his players. You could text him and ask to get some ground balls or something and he would say yes. Coach Box really is someone I can trust and look up to because he has experience in the baseball world, and he wants to help and he’s going to be honest. He’s helped me in baseball a lot. I believe Coach Box is the most influential coach in my baseball career and I wouldn’t be as far along as I am without him to help me over the years.”
“I have been lucky to have played, coached and coached against Coach Box,” said Jackson Prep coach Brent Heavener, who played for Box at Itawamba CC and coached with Box at Prep. “He is a great coach and mentor to me, but he is a better friend of the field. He was at my wedding, the day my little girl was born and my dad’s funeral. Chuck is one of the hardest working men I have been around. But in the true end, he loved his players and always wanted what was best for us. Winning championships was just a bonus for Chuck. Watching his players become men were more important than wins.”
Former Prep and Mississippi State outfielder Jake Mangum, the career SEC hits leader who is now playing for the Class AAA Syracuse Mets in the New York Mets organization, is a big Box fan.
“Coach Box means so much to the guys who played for him,” Mangum said. “My four years with him (2012-15) were awesome, winning three state championships together. No one is more prepared than Coach Box. He dominates the details and that’s what makes him different. He works tirelessly and has his guys backs. I will forever call him a dear friend and mentor.”