ELLISVILLE – Jones County Junior College has three new head coaches.
Steve Buckley is now the head football coach, Chris Kirtland has been promoted to head baseball coach and Brendan Connolly, who has served as an assistant coach for both the men and women's soccer teams, is the new men's head coach.
All three were approved by the JCJC Board of Trustees during its monthly meeting on Wednesday and were later introduced to staff, faculty, administrators and others during a press conference in the McClellan Hall Media Room.
"I am so excited for Jones County Junior College," said JCJC President Dr. Jesse Smith. "We think, today, we have brought together a group of men who inspire greatness with our student-athletes. There are certain characteristics we look for in coaches and in great men.
"We are looking for men with values, who believe in family and who have the ability to inspire others. We think these three me do that."
Buckley is a familiar face to south Mississippi football fans.
He served as head coach at Petal High School from 2007-11 and was an assistant coach at Southern Miss on three occasions. He replaces David Thornton, who resigned last month after serving as head coach for two years.
"This is home for me," Buckley said. "I've spent a lot of time at Petal and at Southern Miss and in this area. I am excited to be at Jones County Junior College now and I can't wait to get started."
Buckley was interviewed in the past few days for the position and made the decision Tuesday night to accept the job.
"I want to thank Dr. Smith, the entire committee and the Board of Trustees," he said. "Since I was a little, little, little bitty boy, I have had one dream in my life and I say this unashamedly: I want to be a head coach at a college.
"And, by gosh, today I am the head football coach at a college. I understand the responsibility that goes along with this job and I am ecstatic about being here."
Buckley was the head coach at Olive Branch High School this past season. He accepted the JCJC position Tuesday night, drove back to Olive Branch and officially resigned Wednesday morning. He then made it back to JCJC for the Board of Trustees meeting and press conference Wednesday afternoon.
"I've literally been driving for 10 hours," Buckley said. "I was reflecting while I was driving back south today and I wanted to put into words where my mind is right now and I came up with four words: ecstatic, honored, humbled and blessed. I really mean that.
"I am ecstatic to be the head coach at this junior college. It's been a lifelong dream of mine to be standing before a group like this in this capacity. I'm honored to be here and I understand this is a very important role. I am also humbled. Coaching humbles people sometimes and you go and you do and you learn. There is a lot of humility in this profession and sometimes you forget that. And I am blessed. My wife and I have spent a lot of time praying over the last seven or eight months about our next journey in this profession we are committed to and God has answered a lot of prayers."
The 1985 Southern Miss graduate began his coaching career as an assistant at Petal High School, before becoming a graduate assistant at his alma mater for the 1987 and 1988 campaigns. He then became a full-time coach for the Golden Eagles in 1989 and 1990.
Buckley then went on to work for four seasons at LSU (1991-94), before taking over at George County High School in Lucedale. During his time there, Buckley was named the District Coach of the Year and was a South State finalist.
He then returned to Southern Miss for another stint as an assistant coach from 1997-99, serving as running backs coach.
After starting a business, Buckley became head coach for five seasons at Petal, where he led his team to the Mississippi Class 6A State Championship game during the 2011 season. The Panthers reached the playoffs four times and were region champions twice during Buckley's tenure.
Buckley, a Natchez native, then returned to Southern Miss where he served as an assistant coach in 2012-13. In 2012, he was assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterback coach. In 2013, Buckley was assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator.
He became head coach at Olive Branch earlier this year.
He is looking forward to getting started with the JCJC program.
"The first thing I'm going to do is to get to know these kids," Buckley said. "We are going to hit the recruiting trail hard. I love to recruit and I can't wait to get into homes. I know there is a lot of talent in this area and I know there is a lot of tradition here.
"There are a lot of guys who have done a lot of things great here and I just hope we can build on some of those things."
Buckley, 52, is married to the former Kristi Fairley and the couple has two children, son Slade, a junior at Ole Miss and daughter Annaleigh, a junior at Petal.
Kirtland has played a key role in the success of Bobcat baseball and is excited to be in charge of the program.
"It is an honor to be introduced as the next head coach," he said. "I want to thank the Board and the administration at Jones, as well as the academic support staff here. This is a place that means a whole lot to me and that's why it is so exciting to stand here before you with this next stage in this new journey.
"This is the kind of place that sets you up for success and is a place where you can watch young student-athletes make decisions that will improve their life. I am so extremely humbled and excited to be here."
Kirtland has confidence the Bobcats can continue to enjoy success.
"This is a program I truly believe in and is one I have great faith that will continue to set the standard high and achieve the great expectations that we have," he said. "I am so excited about the future and leading this baseball team which means so much to me."
Kirtland helped the Bobcats to a 30-16 record in 2015 and the school's seventh straight postseason appearance.
In 2014, Kirtland helped the Bobcats to an MACJC championship, a 46-11 record, a Region 23 runner-up finish and a No. 6 ranking in the final NJCAA Division II poll.
JCJC posted a 28-18 record in 2013 and made its fifth straight MACJC postseason appearance.
He helped the 2012 Bobcats to a 31-19 record. JCJC won its third straight MACJC South Division title and qualified for the MACJC State Tournament for the fourth straight year.
The Bobcats were 46-17, won the MACJC state championship, Region 23 title and finished second in the NJCAA Division II World Series in Enid, Okla., in 2011 during Kirtland's second year with the school. The Bobcats were 38-12 and won the school's first MACJC South Division title in Kirtland's first season at Jones in 2010.
Working primarily with catchers and outfielders, Kirtland has helped develop many successful Bobcat players. Under Kirtland's tutelage, there have been back-to-back NJCAA All-American catchers from JCJC, (Tyler Graves 2014, Mason Irby 2015) with Graves being named NJCAA DII Defensive Player of the Year in 2014. Kirtland's outfielders have also excelled, with players garnering post-season honors and national accolades. Notable players include All-American Tyler Gardner (2010) and 9th round draft pick Chris Lofton (2010). Other notable outfielders include MACJC All-State performers Carter Polles (2014) and Chris Morgan (2014).
Kirtland has served as the lead recruiter for the Bobcats over the past seven seasons, in which JCJC has enjoyed much success on and off the field.
Kirtland came to JCJC from the University of Southern Mississippi, where he served as Director of Baseball Operations for the Golden Eagles in 2009.
Southern Miss won the 2009 Atlanta Regional, Gainesville Super Regional and advanced to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., for the first time in school history.
Kirtland is a native of New Orleans.
A former Southern Miss Golden Eagle, Kirtland came to Hattiesburg in 2004 as a utility player under legendary Coach Corky Palmer. In his time at USM, Kirtland filled a variety of roles for the Golden Eagle program as a Player Development/Baseball Operations staffer.
He served as a student assistant until he received his bachelor's degree in sports administration with a minor in business in 2008 and was named Director of Baseball Operations following his graduation.
He received his master's degree in sports management from Southern Miss after the Golden Eagles' 2009 CWS appearance.
Kirtland teaches Personal and Community Health classes at Jones.
Kirtland is married to the former Amanda Nettles of Hattiesburg.
Connolly replaces Oleg Baleyev, who resigned last month after serving as head coach for 10 seasons.
"I would like to thank Dr. Jesse Smith for this opportunity," he said. "He has given me a lot of support over the last couple of years while I have been an assistant. I appreciate the trust you have placed in me to be the coach of the men's soccer team.
"I am excited for this opportunity to bring success to this program that it deserves."
Connolly played soccer in Ireland for Newington, Glentoran and Cliftonville. He came to the United States in August of 2007 on a soccer scholarship to William Carey University.
He was a part of the WCU men's soccer program from 2007-10. The Crusaders won the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference (GCAC) in 2007 and participated in the NAIA men's soccer national championships in 2009 and 2010. The Crusaders were also ranked in the Top 25 during his time at WCU.
Connolly was named Academic All-American in 2010. He graduated with a BS degree in Health, Physical Education and Recreation from WCU in August of 2011. He earned his master's in Sports Management in 2013 at the University of Southern Mississippi.
"This is a great place to be a coach," Connolly said. "My vision for the men's soccer team at JCJC is to have a program that the college and the community can be proud of.
"I want to instill three core values into my players: Excellence and that includes excellence in themselves, in the classroom, on the soccer field and in everything they do. I also want them to have a love and a passion for the sport that they play. And, finally, you have leadership. I want to encourage all of my players to be leaders and in years to come, long after they have left JCJC, they will be leaders in the community."
Connolly is also an instructor in the HPR Department at JCJC.
His family consists of mother and father, Charlotte and Gerry; two sisters, Martina and Lisa; and a brother, Gerard.
In fact, Martina and Gerard were on hand for the press conference.