A ‘Tough Love’ Father Figure: Jackson Prep (Miss.) Coach Ricky Black

The moms of players at Jackson Prep School in central Mississippi perform a special role in their son’s football participating days.

After all, it can be tough watching your boy play such a physical sport, experiencing the highs and lows of the game while trying to help them understand life lessons.

Jackson Prep coach Ricky Black recognizes the extraordinary impact moms have on his Patriot players and how they can shape the fortunes of a football season.

The women are the first ones Black meets at the onset of a new year. In a separate meeting without the fathers, he lays out the expectations he has for their sons and explains his priority will always be the team as a whole – even if sometimes it comes at the expense of the individual.

“When I get on your son,” he tells the mothers, “it’s not because I don’t like them. I want you to understand your son is going to be offended sometime during the season and he’s going to have to deal with that. We want to make sure we send your son through every range of emotion he’s going to deal with in life – failure, success, sadness, happiness.”

This “tough love” approach is a part of what has made Black ultra-successful at the high school level. He’s won nearly 400 games and 13 state championships in 42 years as a head coach. Until this past season, Black had won seven straight titles at Jackson Prep, vaulting him to No. 22 in wins among the active high school coaches in America and 40th all-time.

Black coached at two public schools and for Mississippi State, his alma mater, under legendary coach Jackie Sherrill, before moving into the private school ranks.

“I planned to be here two years. Two years has lasted a long time,” he said. “I really enjoy the environment here, really enjoy the players and the parents. It’s a very special school system.”

Black admits he didn’t know much about the independent schools in Mississippi after stints at Kosciusko and Tupelo high schools but found it very different.

“In the public schools you hope the parents are involved,” he said. “At Jackson Prep it’s dysfunctional if the grandparents aren’t involved. We expect everyone to be involved.”

The moms prepare pre-game meals on Fridays and make treats for their sons during the school week, all while ensuring they eat properly and get plenty of rest at home, Black said.

“The best group we have are the moms,” he said. “They get everything going, everything organized. If they understand what we’re doing they’ll be a lot more supportive. This is a very strong football community. The parents understand the importance of athletics.”

The Madison-Ridgeland Academy football team ended Jackson Prep’s seven-year run of state championships in November in the 6A state championship game for the Midsouth Association of Independent Schools.

Jackson Prep (10-3) fell to MRA, 33-27.

 The Ricky Black Profile

Team: Jackson, Miss., Prep

Years at school: 24 (1997-present)

Years as head coach: 42

State championships: 13

State runners-up: 8

Coaching record: 391-76-0

2019 record: 10-3, Class 6A runners-up

All-time rank: 40

Active rank: 22

Other schools: Kosciusko, Miss. (1975-79); Tupelo, Miss. (1980-90); Mississippi State University (1991-96)

Family: Wife, Linda; daughter, Paige Clayton: son-in-law Kyle; two grandchildren

Accomplishments: Second winningest coach in Mississippi high school football history; Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame; 2018 National High School Athletic Coaches Association Coach of the Year; Holmes, Miss., Community College Hall of Fame; Mississippi Community College Hall of Fame; Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Hall of Fame; Mississippi State College of Education Alumni Fellow