Former NEJ head coach replaces Cooley, who will now lead Laurel High
South Jones has a new girls’ basketball coach, although he is a familiar name to county sports fans.
Jay Stafford, who most recently served as boys’ basketball coach at Northeast Jones, became the head coach last week, replacing Sherri Cooley, who took the head-coaching position at Laurel High.
In 11 seasons at the helm in Ellisville, Cooley led the Lady Braves to nine winning seasons and posted the best overall record in the district on four occasions. Given the teams’ success and growth over the last decade, Stafford is excited for an opportunity to lead the program into the brighter future.
“Seeing all the success that Coach Cooley and the South Jones girls have had in the past, it was just one of those deals that you really can’t pass up,” Stafford said. “You just have to go and chase that dream of winning a state championship. I’ve been to two as an assistant coach, and now my goal is to win one as a head coach. I believe these girls have the ability and the right team to accomplish that.”
Stafford certainly brings a wealth of experience to the table as the Lady Braves’ coach. The Picayune native graduated from Pearl River Community College and Mississippi State University, serving as a manager for the basketball team at both schools.
His first high school head coaching opportunity came at Enterprise-CLarke in 2012. After two years of coaching the Bulldogs, Stafford served short stints as an assistant coach for Quitman and Wayne County, during both of which his teams made deep postseason tournament runs with two state title appearances. In 2017, he accepted the girls’ basketball head coaching position at Northeast Jones.
In year two with the Tigers, Stafford led the team to 17 victories, the most since 2005.
He said he intends to use the same set of principles he has carried through his previous coaching stops to cultivate more success with the Lady Braves.
“Coaches are salesmen,” said Stafford. “So first off, (the players) have got to buy in to what you’re selling them. After that, we really want to hang our hat on playing hard-nosed defense, shoot the ball well, and everybody’s got to be able to dribble the ball.”
Though the two will be coaching against each other pretty often going forward, now at the helms of district rivals, Stafford says Cooley has gone the extra mile to assist him in making the transition to South Jones as smooth as possible for himself and his new players.
“I’ve been going over there for about a month practicing with them, and Coach Cooley has just been fantastic through the whole transition,” said Stafford. “She’s helped in every way she can. She’s told me to call her any time, and I’ve just been incredibly appreciative of her help.”
Stafford also plans to work as an assistant coach for the South Jones boys’ basketball team under head coach Brian Butler. In return, Butler will be assisting with the girls team as well.
“We’re going to kind of tag team this thing,” said Stafford. “We’re excited to get to work together.”
Cooley will be guiding a Lady Tornado team that has been coached by LHS alum Alphaka Moore.
Moore led Laurel to a 19-11 record in her first season, but the Lady Naders suffered through two straight losing seasons since then.