John Bland Brings Gulf South Conference Experience as MC Choctaws New Coach
Mississippi College’s new football coach, John Bland, is a proven winner who brings plenty of experience as MC makes the transition to NCAA Division II ranks.
Bland, 46, worked as the head coach in 2000 after serving six years as an assistant coach for the University of Southern Arkansas when the school played in the Birmingham-based GSC. He knows the league pretty well and has recruited football talent across the region.
The Gulf South Conference, he told reporters Thursday, “is the best D2 conference in the country.” Rejoining the GSC in Fall 2014, Mississippi College will “have a chance to compete for conference championships,” Bland said. “That is our goal and our plan.”
The GSC consists of some potent football teams, including Delta State, North Alabama, West Alabama and Valdosta State, the 2012 NCAA Division II national champion. Among the newer members of the conference is Baptist-affiliated Shorter University in Rome, Georgia.
For the past eight seasons, Bland compiled a superb 70-21 record as head coach of the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky. That includes a 13-1 record during the 2013 season, including a trip to the NAIA national championship game in December. During his tenure, the Patriots won the Mid-South Conference championship five times.
But the former University of Arkansas quarterback isn’t resting on his past achievements. He will immediately start recruiting potential Choctaws football players and evaluating current MC athletes with national signing day approaching in early February.
Bland simply won’t go after student-athletes who excel on offense, defense and special teams. “We want to recruit players who are quality people.”
Among the Choctaws football players attending the coach’s initial January 2 news conference on the Clinton campus, MC sophomore Hunter Estess of Laurel gave Bland high marks. “I like him. He looks serious about what he is saying,” the kicker said. “I’m hoping for great things.”
Also welcoming the new coach was 1980 Mississippi College graduate Carl Menist, a standout wide receiver on the Choctaws team that captured the school’s first Gulf South Conference championship in 1979. Bland brings “an impressive background” to the job, says Menist, a Jackson CPA. Helping Bland succeed in the GSC, he said, “will take significant support. It is a very competitive league.”
Mississippi College first joined the GSC in 1972, but left in 1996 to join NCAA Division III and the Texas-based American Southwest Conference.
Bland succeeds former head coach Norman Joseph who resigned in November after leading the Choctaws the past nine seasons.
In the weeks ahead, Bland promises to move quickly to hire a number of assistant coaches to the Baptist-affiliated university with more than 5,000 students.
What can players, coaches and fans expect from John Bland’s leadership?
“Coach Bland is a great person on and off the field,” said Michael Collins, 41, who served as defensive coordinator at Cumberlands in Kentucky the past eight seasons. “Bland takes charge and people want to follow him.”
Bland develops strong bonds with players and “is a good family person,” Collins said. Attending the news conference with family members, Collins is a 1990 Clinton High graduate who played tight end for the Clinton Arrows. His father, Laurin Collins, is a former Mississippi College assistant football coach. School officials believe Michael Collins will soon join the MC football coaching staff.
President Lee Royce commended Athletic Director Mike Jones and a university committee for their hard work to select Bland as the institution’s 14th football coach in late December. There were more than 40 candidates considered to lead an MC football program dating back 105 years.
“John Bland exemplifies everything we are searching for,” Jones said when school leaders made the announcement on December 26.
“Coach Bland will be a fine fit for Mississippi College,” Royce added.
The Doc Quick Rebounders Room at the A.E. Wood Coliseum was packed in early January with faculty, staff, students, alumni and other MC supporters warmly welcoming Bland to the Christian university.
“He is someone who meets the mission of Mississippi College, and is a proven winner,” Jones said.
Three football coaches, including his father, Dan Bland, former Arkansas coach Ken Hatfield, and former Southern Arkansas coach Steve Roberts had the biggest impact on John Bland during his career. All are good Christian men and hard workers, he said.
Bland played quarterback for four years under Hatfield at Arkansas, and later served as his quarterbacks coach at Rice University. The new MC coach earned a bachelor’s in kinesiology from the University of Arkansas where he was a four-year letterman for the Razorbacks. Bland received a master’s in kinesiology from Auburn University where he was a graduate assistant under former coach Pat Dye.
Bland and his wife, Candis, who’s an Arkansas graduate, are the parents of three children, Shreve, 16, Jade, 12, and Bo, 9.
After eight “incredible years” at Cumberlands, Bland discovered Mississippi College “was really a good fit for me.” Moving to the Magnolia State also places the Blands much closer to both sets of parents.