Leaving Potts Camp was painful, but Jeremy Dillard said he wasn’t given a choice.
After breathing life back into the boys basketball program, Dillard was fired as boys and girls coach in late May. The reason: He had allowed his players to practice in the gym during the COVID-19 school shutdown.
But Dillard, who went 64-29 in three years leading the boys, said that never happened.
The trouble seemed to begin May 22, he recalled in an interview with the Daily Journal last week. Dillard had been going to the gym for several days to clean up the locker rooms, which he planned to remodel. His 7-year-old son, Jayden, and a cousin came along to help.
It was on May 22 that Gov. Tate Reeves said schools could reopen weight rooms and training facilities for use by students, so long as they abided by health guidelines set forth by the state.
So Dillard allowed a former girls player to come work out. Walter Hamilton, who helped lead Potts Camp to the Class 2A state title game last season and will play at Itawamba Community College next season, also came in to put up shots.
When Dillard was in the gym on May 26, he also had three students whom he mentors. He said one of them no longer attends Potts Camp, while the other two would probably be on the varsity basketball squad next season.
The students put up a handful of shots. A little later, Dillard said an administrator accused him of holding a practice.
He said he had not. Nonetheless, he cleared the gym. Then he got a call saying Marshall County superintendent Roy Lawson wanted to meet with him the next day.
“So I called up to the superintendent’s office and spoke with the superintendent,” Dillard said. “The superintendent tells me that he has pictures and videos of me having practice. I told him that’s not accurate, I was not having practice. Hadn’t once set foot on that floor.”
Dillard was told that he would be meeting with the superintendent and one other administrator. But when he arrived for the meeting the next morning, a recently hired administrator was also there.
This administrator, who Dillard did not name, had told him on May 11 to “not to get comfortable, don’t make any more promises to kids at this school, because you don’t know where you will be from year to year.”
He said when he saw that administrator at the meeting, he knew his tenure at Potts Camp – his alma mater – was over.
“The administrator they brought in, we weren’t going to see eye to eye,” Dillard said. “I actually considered making a move the day I heard they were going to change administrators. I knew that could’ve been an issue.”
Dillard said administration never produced the alleged photos or videos of him conducting practices. But on May 28, he was let go.
He submitted a letter of resignation to the school board at its July 14 meeting. When reached Friday, Lawson declined to comment on the reason for Dillard’s departure.
“All that I’m allowed to say – he can say what he wants to say – but all I can say is I accepted his resignation, and he is no longer employed at Potts Camp,” Lawson said. “We’re excited to have coach (Rashad) Shannon to be the head coach at Potts Camp, and we look forward to what he’s going to bring to our community.”
Shannon was hired last week.
Dillard graduated with honors from Potts Camp in 2010. He was senior class president.
When he returned as head coach three years ago, Potts Camp’s boys hadn’t had a winning season since 2007. The Cardinals went 15-15 his first year, then followed with two deep playoff runs.
They went 25-8 and reached the 1A state semifinals in 2019, and last season they were 24-8 and made the 2A state championship game, losing to Coahoma County.
Dillard also coached track and field. The boys squad finished runner-up at the 1A state meet to Tupelo Christian in both 2018 and ’19.
“I build strong relationships with my kids, and that’s the hardest thing about this,” Dillard said. “I feel like I hurt my kids. The same boys that played basketball were the same ones that ran track.”
Dillard said he didn’t want to appeal his firing, but did so “to save my family’s name and because the ballplayers wanted me to.”
The 28-year-old said he’s going to step away from coaching basketball for a while. He is expected to receive school board approval Monday at a middle school in DeSoto County, where he will help coach football and possibly track.
Dillard said he’s not bitter about how it ended at Potts Camp, and he will remain in the community. He recently built a house there on family land.
“Being from your home school, you absolutely love the kids,” he said. “Everything about school, it was like the TV show back in the day, ‘The Jersey.’ When I put on a jacket to coach a ballgame, I embodied everything that was Potts Camp.”