It’s a last name that dates back generations and has become synonymous with coaching in Tate County.
Whether it’s the past or the present, you don’t have to look far to find the Oakley’s deep association and history with sports in Tate County. It’s a legacy that has been passed down through the years and continues to thrive today, especially among twins Scott and Shane Oakley at Northwest Mississippi Community College.
Today, the Oakley twins are some of the longest tenured coaches at Northwest. Scott will enter his 20th season with the Rangers’ football program in 2021, while Shane is in the midst of his 15th season with the men’s basketball program and his second as the full-time head coach.
However, to understand more about the Oakleys, that requires a trip back in time.
The coaching tree
“It really started with my grandfather,” Northwest assistant football coach Scott Oakley said, on Bill Oakley. “When I was younger, it didn’t sink in for a while about the impact he had as a coach. But after getting to know people like (Northwest Hall of Fame coach) Jim Miles, who played for my grandfather, I really got to see the depth of his impact.”
Though the Oakleys’ local roots run deep, the coaching legacy actually had its origins outside Tate County through Bill’s playing experience at East Mississippi and later at the University of Memphis, where he suited up for basketball and baseball. Through his playing experience, Bill began coaching basketball at the high school level in Walnut and the former Verona High School.
While at Walnut, Bill guided the Wildcats to the 1954 Class B-BB state championship in boys’ basketball, a team that included future Mississippi State hoops legend Kermit Davis, Sr. He also led Verona to a girls’ basketball state title before returning to Tate County in 1955, more specifically Northwest Mississippi Community College.
During his 10 years at Northwest, Bill wore many hats, including the title of men’s basketball coach, assistant football coach, athletic director and dean of student personnel. He later left Northwest after receiving his master’s degree from Ole Miss, but would return in 1977 to take on a new administrative role.
It wasn’t long after Bill’s first departure from Northwest in 1965 that the second generation of Oakleys would emerge. In 1969, his oldest son, Phil, would make his own mark at Northwest, playing three sports and serving as the Rangers’ quarterback under head coaches Billy Joe Cox and Ken Bramlett.
After graduating from Northwest and later Delta State, Phil began his coaching career as the head baseball coach and assistant football coach at Coldwater High School, before eventually moving on to similar positions at Senatobia High School. He took over as the Warriors’ head football coach in 2001 and later took SHS to its only football state championship in 2005, earning Coach of the Year honors from the Mississippi Association of Coaches.
Meanwhile, the Oakley coaching tree was once again spreading beyond the parameters of Tate County through the twins’ father, Kenny. Kenny Oakley coached multiple sports at Fayette Academy in Somerville, Tenn., most notably baseball, until his tragic passing in 1989, leaving a big impact on the local community there. In 2019, the baseball field at Fayette Academy was renamed and dedicated in his honor.
After losing their father, Scott, Shane and their older brother, Brian, were taken in by Phil and immediately became part of the Senatobia community. Both Scott and Shane played multiple sports for the Warriors, with Phil coaching them along the way.
Phil eventually retired from Senatobia after the 2013 season and just two years later, a new Oakley legacy began as his son, Brooks, took over the reins of the Warriors’ football program after successful assistant coaching stints in Olive Branch and Starkville.
In his five seasons at SHS, Brooks has guided the Warriors to the playoffs in every season, winning three region titles and compiling a 38-21 overall record.
After stints as an assistant football coach in Olive Branch and Starkville, Brooks returned home in 2016 to carry on a new Oakley legacy as Senatobia’s head football coach, stepping into the role less than three years after Phil’s retirement. During his five seasons leading the Warriors, Senatobia has made the playoffs every season, winning three region titles and compiling a 38-21 overall record.
Two brothers, different journey
Whether it was spending his childhood in Tennessee or his high school years in Senatobia, getting into coaching was almost a no-brainer for Scott.
“That’s all we knew growing up,” he said. “We were always around sports, whether it was baseball, basketball or football. My father would check us out of school to go to games and we would be the ball boys while he was coaching. After losing both my father and grandfather less than two years apart, uncle Phil became our guardian and we watched him do it as he coached us. As I got to about 17-18 years old, it was just one of those things in my head where I had to ask myself, ‘What else can I really do?’”
“Some kids grow up with fathers who are carpenters or mechanics and they choose to carry on the family legacy,” Scott continued. “For me, it was never this lightbulb moment. That was my way of life and that’s what I knew.”
“We didn’t have a babysitter growing up,” Shane added. “In a sense, sports was our babysitter. After school every day, we were at practice.”
It didn’t take long for Scott to get his feet wet in the coaching world. During his two years studying at Northwest in 1998-99, he served as a student assistant under the Rangers’ all-time winningest football coach, Bobby Franklin. Northwest went 20-4 during those two seasons and won a pair of division titles, a MACJC championship and an appearance in the Mineral Water Bowl, which served as the Rangers’ final bowl game appearance until the 2012 season.
Scott then served as a manager at Ole Miss under then-head coach David Cutcliffe. After earning his bachelor’s degree in secondary education, he returned to Northwest as the running backs and receivers coach from 2002 until Franklin’s retirement in 2005.
In the years since, many coaches have come and gone, including notable names such as Ricky Woods, Jack Wright and currently Benjy Parker. Through all the head coaching changes and staff turnover however, Scott has remained as the one constant, leading countless former Ranger receivers to the Division I level.
For Shane, the career path wasn’t as obvious. In fact, his goals were set entirely away from the world of sports.
“My plan in high school was to be an accountant and make a lot of money,” Shane chuckled. “My grandmother came to me and reminded me about my grandfather, father and uncle all being coaches and that my uncles who didn’t coach wished they did. She felt that I was making a mistake, but I enrolled in accounting classes at Northwest anyway. We went through everything I learned in accounting at Senatobia in the first two weeks of class and by the time it got to the withdrawal date for Accounting I, I realized real quick that this wasn’t going to be my cup of tea. My grandmother was right.”
After he surrendered his accounting plans, Shane graduated from Delta State with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in health and physical education in 2002. More importantly, he picked up his first coaching gig as a graduate assistant at DSU during the 2002-03 season.
That would set off his coaching career, as he later spent a season as the assistant coach for the men’s and women’s basketball programs at Mississippi Delta, before arriving at Northwest in 2004 as an assistant for men’s coach Bubba Skelton and women’s coach Don Edwards.
Unlike his brother though, Shane didn’t always stay at Northwest. Following the 2010-11 season, Oakley rejoined Skelton as an assistant at Jones College in Ellisville.
However, home quickly came calling once again, as Shane rejoined Northwest as the men’s assistant coach in Skelton’s second stint with the Rangers.
“When I left, I thought that I would stay there for a while,” Shane said, reflecting on his brief stint at Jones. “A year later, I got the chance to come back and it worked out perfectly, as I still had a house I shared at the time with Scott. This is home and this is a place where I want to spend the rest of my life.”
Now, Shane has taken on the head coaching role for the men’s basketball program, first serving as the interim head coach for the 2018-19 season before being promoted to the role on a full-time basis ahead of the 2019-20 season.
For both men, Northwest and Tate County in general have brought them staying power.
“I have always said that if Northwest was a four-year school, I would have stayed here all the way through,” Scott said. “I enjoyed it that much. I enjoyed the instructors and the atmosphere. I love Northwest and I love Senatobia. I have always been a family person and being here has given me the best of both worlds. There are smaller opportunities that have come up for me in the past, but Northwest is home to me. It’s hard to leave home.”
“It’s hard to be a head coach in your hometown,” Shane added. “If you don’t succeed at home, then where else can you go? At the same time though, this is a place where I grew up and it’s a place that I love. This community has been great to my family, going back to Jim Miles, Donny Castle, Don Edwards, Bubba Skelton and so on. All of these men have given me an opportunity to do what I love and that’s what has made this a dream job for me.”
Pearls of wisdom
With a generational coaching family, there is no doubt that the Oakleys have received their fair share of advice and pearls of wisdom through the years.
“Most of the population doesn’t understand what it’s like to be a coach,” Shane said. “Meanwhile, I have tons of resources within my own family to rely on, because they have all been there before and know what it is like. I joke with my family because they’re all football coaches that they get 30-40 seconds between plays, whereas me being a basketball coach, I don’t get a break to call a play. They rib me about mopping the floor while they have to cut grass and paint the field, so we get to kid with each other.”
One common mantra that the Oakleys have shared through the years has been a simple, yet serious belief: treating people right.
“You treat people the way you want to be treated, whether that’s your fellow coaches or players,” Scott said. “My father always used to say that kids don’t care how much you know, until they know you care about them. It’s the same thing about life in general. People don’t want your opinion unless they feel that you are truly vested in them. That’s the best advice I have gotten, because it holds true outside of coaching and into life as well. I think back to my grandfather and how he helped make the Oakley name and we never want to do anything to deteriorate the namesake. That’s not always limited to wins and losses; it really goes back again to how you treat people in all aspects of life.”
Some of the biggest life lessons learned came on the field at Senatobia High School, playing under Phil in both baseball and football.
“He was always steady and the players loved to be around him,” Scott said, on Phil. “He was a fun-loving guy, but once we crossed those lines on the baseball field or stepped off the sidelines in football, he wasn’t Uncle Phil anymore - he was Coach. He took it seriously and we got to see him as a coach and experience some tough love when we needed it.”
Another thing that has kept the Oakley coaching tree going has been enjoying each other’s accomplishments.
“I love getting to see my brother coach basketball here,” Scott said. “I find myself getting more worked up about those guys playing great on a Monday or Thursday night. When they lose, I feel worse than when we lose. The same thing goes for Brooks and watching him coach on Friday nights. He has done a lot in a short amount of time with Senatobia and we’re excited to see him begin to cement his own legacy there.”
Shane shares similar thoughts and adds his own perspective.
“When my brother wins, it’s better than me winning. When I see my cousin win, it’s better than me winning. We pull for one another and have each other’s support.”
Regardless, the legacy and wisdom certainly isn’t something that either one will keep to themselves. For Shane, it’s the experiences he’s learned both in and out of sports that he wants to pass on to his student-athletes, in hopes that they too can make their own legacy.
“The biggest thing that this all revolves around is relationships,” he said. “The relationships you make with these kids today, you hope that 15-20 years from now that they pass it along to their kids also. Hopefully, they see that everything I do is to make them a better person down the road. If they become better basketball players in the process, so be it, but hopefully they learn more about how to deal with life, adversity and how to be a better person altogether.”