by Joseph W. Gex II, Staff Writer

The Gulfport High School head basketball coach is the preeminent basketball coaching job in the State of Mississippi.

Whenever someone mentions basketball coaching jobs, the Admirals’ spot is always at the top of the list and has been that way for almost a century. Now, the position is occupied by one of Bay St. Louis’ very own in Brian Butler.

Butler, a native of Bay St. Louis and a 2002 graduate of Saint Stanislaus, got his introduction in basketball under the venerable Jay Ladner who now helms the University of Southern Mississippi program in Hattiesburg.

Butler commented, “This is a dream job. For anyone who wants to reach new heights in this profession in the State of Mississippi, this is the job to accomplish that. I am extremely humbled to be afforded this tremendous opportunity to lead the Admirals of Gulfport High School.”

Most recently, Butler was the head coach at Columbia High School where he led his squad to the 2024 division championship despite being the lowest seed in the tournament.

He was the Wildcats head coach for two seasons. Prior to Columbia, Butler led programs at South Jones High School and Sacred Heart High School in Hattiesburg.

While at Sacred Heart, he also served as the head coach for cross country, track and field, and served as the Dean of Students.

Butler, the first black head boys’ basketball coach in the storied tradition of the Admirals, takes over for Steve Hesser who lasted less than 10 months as Gulfport’s hardwood mentor.

It had been nearly 80 years since the last Gulfport head basketball coach last- ed just one season. Hesser’s mark with Admirals was also just 9-21.

The last time an Admirals team had that few wins was 90 years ago.

Butler went through the interview process a year ago with the Gulfport administration when they hired Hesser.

Butler stated, “Last year, I was a little hesitant when the job came open. But, the only way to get in the room is to walk through the door. Having recently been through the interview process was certainly a plus and I had a little bit more on my resume having won the division title. I reached out to coach Jay Ladner for some advice and we talked through numerous topics to help me prepare.”

Butler inherits an athletic roster so he won’t be starting from scratch.

He added, “The biggest hurdle will be merging the tradition of Gulfport basketball with the new age student athlete of today. Gulfport is a really unique place. All the pieces are in place to be incredibly successful. As I put in place my culture and character, I will melt that with the tradition of what the community is used to seeing and molding it into what we all want Gulfport basketball to become – Champions.”

David Austin, the long-time assistant for Gulfport, has already provided Butler with film from this past season.

Butler continued, “Coach (David) Austin has sent me film that I have had the opportunity to review the returning player’s talent and tendencies. That has been invaluable in getting ready to mold these young men.”

So what is Butler’s first step for Mississippi’s most recognized basketball program? He stated, “I will take the first step that I have always taken with every program I have coached. Coach Jay Ladner taught us all well in how to present ourselves and that is the right way. That is what I will teach first and then we will teach them how to practice because there is a right way to do it. There is a process to building a championship program.”

Butler commented on the high quality of Columbia School District as he begins his new journey, “Columbia has been so very supportive of this endeavor. Chip Bilderback, my athletic director, and I were talking not long ago and I told him that the Gulfport job would be the only one I would leave Columbia. And when this came about, he told me it was a sign that I couldn’t ignore. I want to thank Columbia and everyone associated with it because they taught me that Columbia is a brand and they have helped me understand that with regard to Gulfport. They showed me the lay of the land and I am indebted to them.”

It has been quite a while since Butler first stepped on the hardwood, but he remembers well what got him to this point.

Butler recalled, “One does not get to this point without having some terrific people mentoring you. Dr. Jason Harris, athletic director Chip Bilderback, and everyone at Columbia who have been so supportive of myself and this transition. Coach Jay Ladner, all my teachers and coaches when I was younger and at a vulnerable stage of growth and development who saw me for what I am before I did. Coach Ed Bradley and Chrisla Her- cheaun at Oak Grove who gave me my first coaching job. All my colleagues who have challenged me to prepare and be the very best I can be. And, finally, to all the players who have played for me. Without them performing at a high level, I would not be in the position I am at this time.”

If you remember the last article I wrote on Brian Butler and what he did with his Columbia team this year to get the focus right and exact, rest assured that the white t-shirts will be a part of his story at Gulfport. But, first Butler has to teach the Admirals how to practice and keep the ship afloat.

May the wind be always at your back, Coach Butler.