After a one-year hiatus, Larry Watkins hit the reset button.
The long-time Petal baseball coach was introduced as Sacred Heart’s new coach Tuesday after taking a year off from coaching. During that time off, Watkins said he has been reenergized.
“Being away from it a year really showed me how much I missed it,” he said. “I’m just one of those people who is doing this because I love it. It’s not something that I have to do. I missed it. I missed the kids, I missed the competition and I missed seeing kids develop.”
Along with Watkins, Andrew Little was introduced as the school’s new boys basketball coach. Alexis Broussard has been hired to coach the girl’s team, and she’ll be officially announced at a later date.
Sacred Heart athletics director and boy’s soccer coach Joe Falla was obviously excited about his new hires, especially Watkins.
“I think the kids are getting an obvious legend from the baseball side and somebody who’s forgotten more about the game of baseball than most people will ever know,” Falla said. “I think coach Watkins is excited, I think the Sacred Heart family is excited and I think these kids are getting something unique and special. I hope they really appreciate this coach and work hard for him.”
Watkins coached the Petal Panthers program for 42 years before retiring after the 2018 season. He amassed more than 800 wins and has his No. 1 jersey retired at Petal. In total, he posted an 868-268 record with six state championships in 1990, 1991, 1995, 1999, 2010 and 2011. Watkins also had 137 players earn base scholarships during his coaching career and at least 19 players have played professionally after graduating from Petal.
When Watkins retired from Petal, he wasn’t sure if he’d get back into coaching. He had conversations with area teams about joining coaching staffs, but nothing ever came to fruition. Watkins wasn’t necessarily out looking for a job, but when the opportunity at Sacred Heart opened, he listened to what Falla had to say.
Falla and Watkins got in contact through Sacred Heart’s Guidance Counselor, Kimberly Pittman. Watkins coached Pittman’s sons at Petal and the two saw each other at a ballgame one night and started talking. She asked if he was interested in getting back into coaching, and the next thing Watkins knows, Falla is calling his phone.
The two talked numerous times over the course of a couple of weeks. Watkins did his homework on the Crusaders’ program, and he accepted Falla’s offer.
“I didn’t want to jump into something and not be ready for it,” Watkins said. “The more I looked at it, it just seemed like the right fit. I thought hard about it and prayed about it, and I think it’s just the right thing. I think I can help this program and these kids.”
Little comes to Sacred Heart from Richton, where he only spent a semester as an assistant coach for the Rebels. He got in the coaching game late and wanted to learn from the best, so he asked his former coach Hugh Thoms. Everything from doing the team laundry to preparing for games, Little wanted to know it all.
“I really got in his hip pocket when I got there,” Little said. “I said, ‘Coach, I’m trying to get into coaching.’ I wanted to know every facet of the game. How to practice, how to prepare and how to go through preparing for games. Basically, the entire process he was doing every day, I was right there with him.”
The 25-year-old saw the opening at Sacred Heart and decided to take his shot. It seemed like a long shot, but Little impressed Sacred Heart enough to earn the trust and lead the Crusaders’ program.
“You miss every shot you don’t take,” Little said. “I came into the interview for the head position, so I went into it confidently because I do believe in myself and my coaching abilities. I came in and talked to him, gave him all of my philosophies of what I’d be doing and what I would expect from the players.”