HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - After leading the Petal High School Panthers to the 2011 6-A state championship game, Steve Buckley will join Ellis Johnson at the University of Southern Mississippi as the team's running backs coach.
"It's kind of been a whirlwind of opportunity," said Buckley, "You sit back and look at everything, it's just a terrific opportunity for me."
Buckley says leaving Petal, though bittersweet, will be a great opportunity to not only continue what former head coach Larry Fedora built, but to coach with his friend, Johnson, of 23 years.
"(Coach Johnson's) a personal friend of mine," said Buckley, "and we've stayed in contact through the years, you know, the opportunity to go back to the University of Southern Mississippi...to go back with coach Johnson is just an opportunity I could not turn down, and I'm excited about this opportunity.
Buckley will return to the black and gold for the third time in his career. His previous stints included one in the mid-80s with Curly Hallman, and in the mid-90s with Jeff Bower. He leaves Petal after five years at the helm. This past season, Buckley helped guide the Panthers, who never in their history won a play-off game, to the state championship game against Olive Branch, where they fell in heart-breaking fashion by one point.
"It's a bit bittersweet to me and my family," Buckley said, "We've had a great five-year run at Petal High School, and with the facilities they've built, and to play in the championship game this year was just an unforgettable experience."
Because of the holiday break, Buckley did not have a chance to meet with his team in person and share the news of his departure.
"I'm close to those guys, and would love to sit down and explain to them everything that's going on, but again, they'll understand that," he said, "Petal's a great place. It was a great place before I got there, and it will be a great place in the future; tremendous coaching staff, tremendous administration. So everything's in place for continued success there."
Now the task moves to Southern Miss, where Buckley and Johnson will take on the task of improving upon the greatest season in Golden Eagles history.
"I'll be the firs to say, that what they did with 12 wins was remarkable, and what we're going to do is hit the ground running when the whole staff gets in," said Buckley, "I'm sure coach Johnson will continue the things he said at his press conference."