Legendary Pearl River football coach Tim Hatten set to be enshrined in MACJC Hall of Fame
POPLARVILLE, Miss. — Tim Hatten hasn’t been on the Dobie Holden Stadium sideline in years, but all it took was a couple strides onto Pearl River’s hallowed ground for the moments that made him a revolutionary force in junior college football to come rushing back.
There was the fourth down play where Glentrelle Ware wasn’t going to make the needed yardage so he pitched the ball back to Jimmy Oliver, who made a guy miss and was practically laughing as he jogged out of bounds with the first down.
How’s about the 98-yard bomb from Oliver to James Hollingsworth down the visitor’s sideline. Then there was the time Seth Hayden — “what a player he was for us,” Hatten stopped to say — scored on a faked reverse that turned into a throwback.
Each retelling is accompanied by “this sideline,” “that end zone” or “right around here” as Hatten recalled some of his most memorable moments while walking the field during a recent trip to Poplarville. Every one of those memories stacked on top of one another built Hatten’s legendary 11-year run as Pearl River’s football coach.
The Sumrall native will be enshrined alongside the state’s JUCO icons Tuesday when he’s inducted into the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges Sports Hall of Fame during a ceremony at Hinds’ Muse Center in Pearl.
“Coach Hatten is most deserving of this recognition. He built Pearl River Community College football into a perennial national championship contender. This induction cements his legacy as one of the best to ever coach in the MACJC,” Pearl River President Dr. Adam Breerwood said. “I am honored to call him a friend and proud of his accomplishments on and off the field. I was here the day he arrived on campus and had the opportunity to work with him in a variety of capacities over the years. He had an unwavering love and respect for his players. I believe this was the foundation for his overwhelming success.
“I cannot think of anyone more deserving of this honor.”
Even after leaving PRCC to lead Crestview High in Florida, Hatten has always remained one of the Wildcats’ biggest supporters.
“When you talk to Tim Hatten, you understand quickly that he loves Pearl River Community College and our community. He was not only a Hall of Fame football coach, but he’s a huge fan and supporter of Pearl River,” Pearl River Athletics Director Jeff Long said. “As a football coach, winning four straight state championships in this league is remarkable. Tim changed the landscape of recruiting and coaching in this league.
“We are excited to have Tim represent us in the State Hall of Fame.”
HALL OF FAME CAREER
Pearl River Community College and Hatten will always be connected. After playing for J.C. Arban in the early 1980s, Hatten got his head coaching start at Haines City (Fla.) High before returning to Poplarville. During his 11 seasons as head coach of the Wildcats from 2002-12, Hatten built his alma mater back into a powerhouse.
Hatten utilized a wide-open passing attack that revolutionized the MACJC to compile an 80-30 overall record; his.727 winning percentage is good enough for 25thall-time among NJCAA football coaches with at least 100 games played. Three times Hatten’s teams hit double-figure wins, including the 2004 team’s 12-0 run. Hatten’s teams claimed four state championships (’03, ’04, ’05, ’06), a national championship in ’04 and played for another national title in ’06.
In a lot of ways, Hatten’s unparalleled tenure at Pearl River was defined by his National Championship victory over Butler (Kansas) in the Dalton Defenders Bowl. Long before kickoff, Hatten knew his Wildcats were going to come through. Why? Butler had shown up at a National Championship game banquet, Hatten felt, overly confident. He recalled thinking this Butler squad had no idea what it was about to experience.
“They just came in with a confidence and were talking when they came in and our kids just kind of looked at them and watched them. We just had a feeling that this was going to be our game,” Hatten said. “They never played a team from Mississippi with better in-state athletes than they ever thought of having. I think that was the difference. Our in-state guys were way better than their in-state guys and our out-of-state guys were way better than theirs as well.
“We felt like we had a really, really good chance. We had a couple turnovers and didn’t play real well and we still won by three possessions.”
One key to Hatten’s success was his ability to avoid what doomed Butler —meaning he was never recklessly confident.
“I never made any promises but I always felt like we could be competitive,” Hatten said. “I thought we had a pretty good system and if we could recruit good players we’d at least be competitive. That’s all I ever promised.”
Speaking of good players, there were plenty during Hatten’s tenure at The River. Of PRCC’s 27 NJCAA All-America selections to date, 14 came under Hatten’s watch. In addition to 171 athletes who went on to play at four-year schools, Hatten also had a number of Wildcats who played professionally, including Seth Roberts, Kion Wilson, Marcus Ball, Tavaris Cadet and Larry Brackins.
Ask Hatten about other standouts whom he remembers fondly and Oliver, Hayden, Sandy Ray Collins and Shalamar Walker jump out.
“That’s just to name a few. We had some good players over the years — certainly on this field,” he said, standing at midfield. “We scored a lot of touchdowns and they created a lot of excitement.”
Perhaps no player was more beloved than Oliver.
“Anytime you think of the national championship, you have to think about Jimmy Oliver. He was a guy who was 20-1 as a starter and the only game he lost he threw for 608 yards and six touchdowns and scored 48 points. That was amazing,” Hatten said. “I’ve told people over the years, if there was a lottery and I could pick first, I’m picking my best — and I’ve had a lot of NFL guys — it would definitely be Jimmy Oliver,” said Hatten, who estimates he’s probably coached more than 5,000 players in his career. “If you had Jimmy Oliver stepping off the bus, you were in every game. You knew you could score 40.”
In addition to crediting his players, Hatten was quick to mention his staff, which helped him build the Wildcat juggernaut.
“You look back on it and you’re proud of what you accomplished as young men and young coaches. We were fortunate enough to be named Coach of the Year and I’ve been in Florida several years and recently had that honor in 7A, too,” said Hatten, who has rebuilt Crestview (Fla.) High into a power. “It shouldn’t be Coach of the Year, it should be Coaching Staff of the Year.
“The same goes with the Hall of Fame; it should be a Hall of Fame coaching staff.”
Communication was key for Hatten’s staff, he said. They also liked to have a good time — which was another underrated ingredient to his success.
“You better have fun while you’re there,” he said. “I think a lot of us get caught up in the seriousness of it. I’ll tell you, we worked a lot but we had a lot of fun. There was a lot of laughter coming out of the fieldhouse.”
MORE THAN JUST FOOTBALL
Hatten, his wife, Cindy, and children, Alli, Eli and Ian, will always hold a place in their hearts for Poplarville.
“You should never forget where you come from. We will always support this place because without Pearl River there is no Tim Hatten,” he said. “The bottom line is if I don’t come here and walk on then what do I do because I probably don’t go to college.
“Without J.C. Arban taking a chance on me, (former PRCC President) Dr. William Lewis never would have taken a chance on me. … When you reach a certain age you have to understand the importance of what made you who you are.
“It built the foundation on what I would do in the future. I think everybody should remember their Pearl River. We all have one, somewhere. It’s been a special place to me.”
Hatten will join Pearl River’s elite in the state’s Hall of Fame, including Dobie Holden (2007), Willie Heidelberg (2007), Antrice McGill Walker (2007), Jerrel Wilson (2008), Tommy Walters (2008), Frank Branch (2009), J.E. Loiacano (2010), Bobby Weaver (2011), Mack Cochran (2012), Darryl Stephen (2013), Doug Daniels (2014), J. Larry Ladner (2015), Jeffrey Posey (2016), Jay Artigues (2017) and Larry Whigham (2018).
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