Spate of coaching changes at Lincoln County schools for 2024-2025

Published 8:23 am Wednesday, March 27, 2024

All four schools that make up the Lincoln County School District will have changes to their coaching staff in the 2024-2025 school year after the board approved a round of new hires at last week’s meeting.


Smithhart, Avants hired at Bogue Chitto

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With longtime Bogue Chitto head football and baseball coach Gareth Sartin ascending to the position of head principal next year, the school hired two names familiar to local fans to fill those spots.

Former West Lincoln and most recently Franklin County head coach BJ Smithhart has been named the new head football coach at Bogue Chitto, taking over from Sartin, who led the program for 22 seasons.

Current Lawrence County High baseball coach Seth Avants will also come on staff as an assistant football coach along with being the next head baseball coach at the school.

Smithhart came to Lincoln County in 2017 as head football coach at West Lincoln. His first team went 5-6 and hosted the first ever home playoff game in school history. After going 8-14 in two years leading the Bears, he was picked to take over Franklin County, where he was head coach for five seasons.

His best team in Meadville was the 2022 squad that finished 6-5. After Franklin County finished 3-8 in 2023, the school announced Jonathan Brooks, an alum who’d most recently worked at Madison Central, as the next head football coach.

Smithhart also spent nine seasons as the head coach at Saint Aloysius Catholic School in Vicksburg. His 2014 team at St. Al went 13-2 and lost to Cathedral in the MHSAA 1A state championship game.

Bogue Chitto is a program that Smithhart is very familiar with, having coached against the Bobcats a combined nine times during his tenures at St. Al, West Lincoln, and Franklin County.

It may be jarring at first to look at the sideline at Troy Smith Field and see someone other than Sartin directing Bogue Chitto football, but Smithhart is ready for the challenge.

“Coach Sartin and his staff have done a great job building a strong culture and a great tradition,” said Smithhart. “I’m looking forward to working with the staff to continue that. My family and I are very lucky to be joining the Bobcat family and I’m ready to get to work on this upcoming season.”

One thing Smithhart has is an experienced staff, as longtime BC assistant coaches Adam Moak and Chad Norton will continue in their roles. Also joining the football staff will be Avants, who is an alum of the school and was a standout quarterback during his time playing for Sartin.

It was actually Avants who was at the controls of the Bogue Chitto offense in 2008 when Smithhart made his head coaching debut at St. Al. BC won 34-21 that night, sparked in part by a 72-yard kickoff return touchdown by Avants.

Avants took over as head baseball coach at Lawrence County in 2020 after previously being an assistant football and baseball coach at the school. Once he became head baseball coach in Monticello, Avants stepped away from being an assistant coach on the staff of LC coach Jesse Anderson.

At Bogue Chitto, he’ll join a group of coaches on campus that includes his sister, Candace Avants McDowell, the head softball coach.


Chris Lyle picked to lead West Lincoln baseball

The fans from Flea Hop will see their school and community get a dose of new blood with the hiring of Chris Lyle to the position of head baseball coach. Lyle is a native of Mississippi who graduated from Gulfport High and is currently working as an assistant football and baseball coach at Robertsdale High School, a school located in Baldwin County along the coast of Alabama.

Lyle is the second recent head coaching hire at West Lincoln, joining new head football coach Johnny Ball.

The West Lincoln baseball program has been led by Lawrence County legends and brothers Tony and Craig “Bowie” Davis for the last few seasons. Tony Davis had a long career leading Cougar baseball in Monticello with his brother Craig as his top assistant. The pair have worked to grow the game at the school, which had low participation numbers when they took over.

West Lincoln is currently 10-7, which has them on pace to have the most wins for the program since the 2017 squad finished 20-7.

Lyle has most recently been a head coach at L.E.A.D. Academy in Pace, Florida. The school’s name stands for Leadership, Enthusiasm, Attitude, and Discipline and in two seasons, Lyles led L.E.A.D. to a combined 33-19 record and the 2023 Panhandle Christian Conference championship.

Previously a head coach earlier in his career at Starkville Academy, Lyle has also been an assistant coach at Richland High School and Harrison Central.

“West Lincoln has all the pieces in place to be successful,” said Lyle. “Great people, a very supportive administration, and players who will be coachable. It’s such a blessing to serve Him by leading these young men at West Lincoln. I met with the team this week and they are ready to build on the success that they are having this season under Coach Davis.”


Newman leaving Enterprise for Loyd Star basketball

Loyd Star is also getting a new head basketball coach as the board approved the transfer of Rusty Newman from his current position at Enterprise.

For the past two seasons the Loyd Star girls were coached by Russell Cruise, who recently announced that he’s leaving for the girls’ basketball job at Silliman Institute. Cruise came to Loyd Star after a stint at Neshoba Central and the veteran coach has also worked at Brookhaven Academy earlier in his career.

The Loyd Star boys have been led by Seth Britt since the 2018-2019 season. He took over after the retirement of legendary coach Gene “Moochie” Britt, no relation.

Seth Britt won a the Region 7-2A regular season and tournament titles in that first season, going 19-10, and took the region tournament title a few years later in memorable fashion after being seeded third after the regular season.

Britt also coached the Loyd Star girls’ team for a couple of seasons before the hiring of Cruise. His final boys’ team at the school finished 18-7 this season. As an alum of the school and longtime assistant baseball coach at Loyd Star for his brother, Jared, Seth Britt is happy to see the program being handed off to Newman, who he’s long been friends with.

“Rusty is the guy that I wanted to take over as boys’ basketball at Loyd Star if I ever decided to give it up and he was still coaching,” said Britt. “I wasn’t quite ready, but it’s best for Loyd Star basketball because we got the best available person to come coach our girls and it so happened it took me giving up the boys’ job to get him to our school. I’m super excited about Coach Newman and the direction the program will head under his leadership. Basketball is in good hands.”

Britt went a combined 85-69 in six seasons as the head boys’ basketball coach at Loyd Star.

Newman coached the boys and girls last year in his lone season at Enterprise. His boys’ team went 12-13 and hosted a playoff game for the first time in a long time and his girls’ team finished 10-14.

A product of Wesson, where he was a longtime boys’ head coach along with a stint as the girls’ head coach, Newman said the opportunity to move to Loyd Star was one he could not pass up. As he did at Enterprise, Newman will also take the role of athletic director at Loyd Star.

“I feel like everything happens for a reason and that the opportunity at Loyd Star opened up for me and my family for the right reason,” said Newman. “Not only will I be taking a coaching job, but my wife will be taking a teaching job. I had a great season at Enterprise, and it was not an easy decision to step away, but I also know I am coming into a good situation at Loyd Star. I’m excited about this opportunity and am looking forward to seeing what the future holds for me as I take over the basketball programs and athletic director position. I am excited and ready to get to work with my new players.”

Newman will be the first person not named Britt to coach the Loyd Star boys’ basketball team since Don Presley led the Hornets nearly 30 years ago.