By Jamie Combs
While Elizabethton High girls basketball can start to slide out from under the microscope, the boys’ program is set to attract some good, hard looks.
On Monday, the boys’ coaching job was officially posted by EHS principal John Wright — and will remain in place for the standard 10 days.
“From whomever applies, we’ll do interviews,” Wright said. “And we’ll probably do that fairly quickly, and try to get someone in place as soon as possible.”
That opening came about after Len Dugger, who coached the boys after replacing Tony Gordon very early in the 2011-12 campaign, elected to return to his former gig of heading up the Lady Cyclones. He announced his decision over the weekend.
“Coach Dugger has obviously made his decision on where he wants to be,” said EHS athletic director Mike Wilson. “Now we just need to be sure that we get the best possible coach that we can get for the guys. There’s a process that has to be followed, obviously. … We want to look and see who applies, and we’ll just do everything in our power to hire the best guy that we can.”
After Gordon resigned his post, Director of Elizabethton City Schools Ed Alexander filled the vacancy with Dugger — who had been coaching the girls — and put Wilson in charge of the Lady Cyclones for the rest of the year. The change in circumstances was certainly unique — and topsy-turvy in nature.
“We are certainly pleased that we have Coach Dugger in either capacity,” Alexander said. “He has demonstrated that he could do — and do well — with both sets of student-athletes. He stepped into a difficult circumstance and did, just as we believed he would, a good job. He was promised — from the outset of that situation — that he could, at the end of the season, choose which (position) he preferred; and he has now done that.”
Previously the boys’ coach from 1979 through ’95, Dugger was quite successful during that time — averaging 18 wins per year and reaching the 1983 Class AAA state semifinals.
During the four full seasons he called the shots for the Lady Cyclones, he went to two Class AA state tournaments.
“Coach Dugger is going to do well wherever he coaches,” Wright said.
Although they were upset by Johnson County in the opening round of the District 1-AA tournament, the Cyclones ascended to the 20-win plateau this past season.
“I appreciate the good work he did with the boys this year,” Wilson said of Dugger. “He stepped into a difficult situation and did a great job, and I really appreciate that.”
The Lady Cyclones also made it to 20 victories — before bowing out in the Region 1-AA quarterfinals.
“It was an unfortunate situation, with the way everything happened,” Wright said. “It’s incredible how well both teams performed through the season. But we’re really concerned that we get the right people for the boys and the girls — we don’t take it lightly for either one. (The boys’ job is) one of the harder positions to coach in the city of Elizabethton. We have such a good football program, so several of our players play football way up into the season. Our conference is tough, too. The boys conference is extremely tough.”
An arduous position it may be, but job seekers aren’t likely to be in short supply.
“We’ve had interest in this position already, and we will pursue all those that apply,” Wilson said. “Or anyone who has questions about the position that would like to talk to myself, or I’m sure Mr. Alexander or Mr. Wright, we can talk to those individuals and answer any questions they might have. Then they can decide whether they want to fill out an application and pursue the position or not.”
Although names have to be kept under lock and key at this juncture, the list of early candidates packs a rather solid punch.
“I have been highly impressed with them,” Wright said.
With a date to begin interviews not yet determined, Wright plans to squeeze in as much up-front research as possible.
The person who lands the job should be walking into a situation geared for immediate success. The squad loses all-conference player Justin Wandell, but no one else.
“It’s not like the cupboard’s bare,” Wilson said. “It’s not a job that’s unattractive.”
Despite the desire to make a hire as quickly as possibly, Wright conveyed there will be no rushing into a decision. Getting someone with high school coaching experience is a preference, and the ability to do more than “win games” will bolster one’s chances.
“We want somebody who cares about building up these young students and making them men, really,” Wright said. “Character counts quite a bit. Every coach chews you out, but they need to be able to build up people. We want somebody who can teach fundamental basketball and hopefully be a good game coach — and a good part of the community and here at school. Sort of a whole package.”
There’s also the educational aspect to consider.
“We have to find somebody who fits into our teaching options here,” Wilson said. “We don’t know what all those are just yet.”
Noting there could be a little flexibility in that realm, Elizabethton’s AD touched on the importance of finding a coach interested in sticking around for a good while.
“Stability is really important,” he said. “Right now, more than ever.”