Mississippi College Football Coach Norman Joseph Brings Faith and Builds Leadership
June 3, 2013
Norman Joseph is much more than a good football coach at Mississippi College.
His Christian faith is driving the 58-year-old Mississippian to succeed as a coach, teacher and mentor to young men on and off the football field.
“I feel this is my calling. I feel the Lord led me to coaching,” Joseph said. “I want to have an impact on our players.”
On June 3, Joseph joined coaching colleagues promoting the new movie “Mississippi Gridiron Gold,” that tells the story of high school football in the Magnolia State since Yazoo City and Winona clashed in the first game in 1905.
At a Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame press conference in Jackson, Joseph said he learned his craft from a great group of coaches starting at the high school level in Vicksburg and later at Mississippi State. “Hopefully, I’m doing it the right way as well.”
As the MC Choctaws leader, he’s sharing what he learned under extraordinary coaches as a quarterback, receiver and defensive end at the former South Vicksburg High School. He advanced his skills by playing under Mississippi State coach Bob Tyler before wrapping up his playing days with the Bulldogs in 1977.
Some of his stellar Vicksburg mentors in the old Big 8 Conference included Jerry Sullivan, who later became a receiver’s coach in the NFL, Raymond Carter, a longtime SEC football official, and George Lee, an MSU football assistant. Seeing these coaches work taught him how to organize football practices, pay attention to details and motivate people to give their best. Add Rush McKay and Glenn Slay, to his phenomenal coaching list at his alma mater in the River City.
“Because of these men and many others, they impacted me as an athlete, student, and player. They were interested in me as a person,” Joseph said. “Due to their influence and the Lord, it led me into coaching.”
Over the years in which coaching stops took him to California, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Texas, Joseph discovered Mississippi high school football has no equals. “There is real passion for high school football in Mississippi,” says the Choctaws head coach. “Mississippi high school football coaches are as good as anybody in the nation.”
For fans, coaches and players, passion for the sport stretches from the South’s sweltering summer practices to state championship games in chilly December.
To be released at theaters July 18, the new movie documentary is co-produced by Ennis Proctor, former director of the Mississippi High School Activities Association, and Jackson attorney Mike Frascogna. “This honors football coaches in Mississippi,” says Proctor, a Mississippi College graduate.
It doesn’t have a $60 million budget like “The Blind Side” and stars like Sandra Bullock, but it features dozens of stars – all Mississippi coaches, Frascogna said.
Learning from some talented coaches in Vicksburg public schools, Joseph has a football resume that begins as a volunteer coach at Vanderbilt University in 1977. Twenty years later, in 1997, Joseph was named the first football coach at Belhaven University before serving as head coach at Louisiana College in 2004.
Selected as Mississippi College’s head football coach in 2005, Joseph led the team to win the American Southwest Conference championship in 2009 as MC reached the NCAA playoffs for the first time since 1991. There have been some challenging years, too. The Choctaws hope to bounce back this fall after three straight losing seasons.
Former players believe in his ability to lead, while staying true to his faith. He’s helped them become better coaches and people.
“The first thing is his high character,” said Marcus Arroyo, offensive coordinator for the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. The quarterback at San Jose State when Joseph was the team’s offensive coordinator, Arroyo calls himself fortunate to be “around a guy who was so much more than the scoreboard itself.”
Coach Joseph, said the 2003 San Jose State grad, “was such an inspiration. He cared about us as players, but could be critical. He was a leader. I have a lot of fond memories.”
Belhaven football coach Joe Thrasher, who played fullback for the Blazers, also piles on the praise. “Coach Joseph took chances to start a program from scratch,” but turned it into a winner. At the same time, his deep faith and interest in the lives of the players was always important on the Jackson campus.
“He’s at MC, and I’m at Belhaven and our faith is at the forefront,” Thrasher says.
Mississippi High School Activities Association Director Don Hinton, who was Thrasher’s football coach at Vancleave High, and Norman Joseph are two men who blessed his life as a young college coach.
With the 2013 season kicking off in a little more than two months, Coach Joseph has mapped out his priorities.
Each year at the Baptist-affiliated university, the MC leader sets four goals for his football players.
--Each player will finish Mississippi College with a diploma.
--Players end the season wearing an athletic letter jacket.
--They leave MC with a conference championship ring on their fingers.
--If football players don’t know Jesus Christ, they will get to know Him. And if they do know Christ, they get to know Him better.
While he loves reading books about big-time coaches like Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots and Nick Saban of Alabama, the MC coach’s life doesn’t just revolve around football. Family time is key. Norman Joseph and his wife, Jane, are Clinton residents and the parents of three daughters, Elizabeth, Grace Anne and Sara Catherine. So far, none of the daughters are coaches.
Photo: MC Choctaws football coach Norman Joseph promotes movie "Mississippi Gridiron Gold."