When Jackson Kelly found out his dad, Brandon Kelly, was leaving Haskell Harmony Grove High School to be the head boys basketball coach at Bauxite, Jackson ran to his room, slammed the door, jumped into his bed and balled his eyes out.
“It was a good teaching moment for me,” Brandon Kelly said. “If God calls you to do something, then you do it. And it is not always easy.
“I am out of my comfort zone here. I was happy at Harmony Grove. It is a great school; the administration is phenomenal. I just felt like I was being led somewhere else.”
Kelly told his 7-year-old son, “There is nothing wrong trying to better yourself in any situation.”
“Once he came out here and got on the floor, he was over it,” Kelly said. “That was exciting to see.”
Kelly was named the new head boys basketball coach for Bauxite High School at a school board meeting on May 20. He replaces former head coach Andy Brakebill, who left for the same position at Poyen High School.
“I think what stood out the most about Brandon was his character,” Bauxite Athletic Director Josh Harrison said. “He is a high-character person, and a person I would want my son to play for.
“He really impressed the committee, and his personality is very infectious. I think kids are going to be drawn to him and want to play for him.”
Harrison said there were about 40 applications for the position, and eight were interviewed.
“I think the chance to be a head coach and develop and run a program with his stamp on it is what drew Brandon to us …,” Harrison said, “for him to come into a program that has had success and build off the foundation that Mark [Smith] and Andy have laid, and put a stamp on it and see where he can take it.”
For Kelly, this is his first head coaching position in basketball. He has been at Harmony Grove for nine years, serving as an assistant coach in basketball and as head baseball coach from 2010 to 2011. Kelly said if he had stayed at Harmony Grove, he would have served as the head junior high boys basketball coach this fall.
“Wins and losses will not define success in my program because there are so many factors that go into both of those,” Kelly said. “But if we can get kids to play as hard as they can and compete every possession and do the best with what we’ve got, that’s when we will know we’ve been successful.”
Kelly has also served as an assistant baseball coach for Brandon Mynhier since 2012.
“Brandon is an incredible man,” Mynhier said. “He gets along with everybody and has a great sense of humor — all the players love him.
“He is a great guy to be around and somebody everyone wants to be around. He is very smart and coaches guys well. He is just a great individual.”
Mynhier said Kelly has a “way of getting to know his guys and getting the best out of them.
“I think he will do an incredible job.”
Kelly graduated from Nettleton High School in 2003 and earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Arkansas State University in 2007. He met his wife, Lyndsey, while in college, and they have been married 10 years. They have two sons, Jackson, and 3-year-old Dawson. Lyndsey is the junior high librarian for the Harmony Grove School District.
“That’s what she went to college for, so she is probably going to stay there for a while,” Kelly said. “We don’t know what is going to happen, but I see Bauxite as a place where I can retire at, just from the people I have met and the kids who have gone through here.
“It is constantly growing, and all around, it is a really good district to be in.”
He said Bauxite has been on his radar ever since he graduated.
“This was the first school I applied for,” Kelly said, “and my goal when I got into coaching was to be a head coach.
“The Lord opened this door for me, and it’s something I have been praying for. It was too wide open for me to pass up.
“Anytime a job like this comes open, with the success they have had and just the success of the district, it is awesome. It is what drew me to this position.”
Kelly said he got into coaching because of the relationships built between him and his players.
“That’s what coaching is about, just making relationships, lasting relationships,” Kelly said. “A lot of these kids — they didn’t grow up the way I did. A lot of them don’t have dads or great home lives.
“So anytime I can be consistent in their lives and pour into these kids — not only emotionally, but also spiritually — that’s always my ultimate goal.”
Bauxite finished 24-9 last season, losing in the second round of the state tournament. The Miners defeated Warren High School in the 4A South regional championship game for the school’s first ever regional title.
“We want to have those high expectations for our boys, but this is going to be a young team,” Harrison said. “Our expectations for our basketball team is to be as successful as possible.”
Kelly said he is excited about the opportunity.
“I think one thing that separates me from others is my willingness to learn,” Kelly said. “I am willing to seek out advice from veteran coaches, and I am not done learning.
“As long as I continue to reach out to those who have been doing it longer and have had more success, I think we can keep this program on the same track that it is headed.”
Bauxite held a player meeting for the new coach, and Kelly said about 24 juniors and seniors attended the meeting, which was a positive.
“One of the biggest challenges is getting to know these kids on a personal level so that I can find out exactly what the best style of offense will give us the most success,” Kelly said. “We had a player meeting, and I asked them what their expectations were of me, and I told them my expectations of them.
“We also had practice for four days, and that helped me feel out what they can do on the floor.”
Mynhier said seeing Kelly switching from Harmony Grove to Bauxite hurts a little bit.
“He does so much for the baseball team. We hate to lose him,” Mynhier said. “I wish him nothing but the best.
“We have hung out several times since then, and he is such an incredible guy and will have a good time over there.
“I hate that he got that job because he is such an important part of what we are doing over here. The guy deserves it, and he is going to see a lot from it.”
Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or firstname.lastname@example.org.