Just a short time ago, boys’ basketball in the Scioto Valley Conference
was stabilized by the consistency in the coaching staffs around the conference. Now there's new blood – and plenty of it.
Counting the upcoming season, the eight-team conference will have eight new boys basketball coaches in three years.
It would be completely unfair to say there hasn’t been good teams in the SVC over the past three or four years, but the musical chairs that head coaches have often been forced to play, has unfortunately made fans label those good teams as just that, rather than teams in a great program.
The conference has already seen more than double the coaching-changes this decade than it went through during the entire decade of the 90’s. And with the SVC welcoming three new coaches two seasons ago, two more new coaches last season, and currently preparing to welcome three more this season, it is hard for fans of any age to identify with the brand of basketball being played in this eight-team affiliation.
Why the constant change? Well, the reasoning seems to be different at each stop. Obviously, a coach could not be renewed due to lack of winning or other problems in his time as head coach. Sometimes it may be the coach has made the wrong person mad, sometimes it may be the “coach-to-be” can make the right person happier, and sometimes it really is just the coach’s decision to step away for a variety of personal reasons. Whatever the reason, it has started to take much of the past familiarity away from this once-stable league.
“I think it is really difficult for a young coach in today’s society to make it past the seven to 10 year stretch at one school,” said Chillicothe head coach Gary Kellough who after a 20-plus year coaching stint at Zane Trace is now at Chillicothe where he just led the Cavaliers to the 2007-2008 D-II State Championship in his third season. “The reason I say that is the fact that society has changed so much over the past 20 years. Today’s parents, administrations, and community members have really high expectations, and even when you reach some of those expectations, chances are you are never going to do so in a way that everybody is pleased. It is just impossible to keep everybody happy.”
“I know I have been really fortunate here at Vinton County with the amount of support I have received from the entire administration,” said Vinton County head coach Matt Combs who is preparing for his ninth season at the school. “The administration has trusted me to coach and handle the program the best way I see fit. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case in high school athletics.”
New faces this winter will include first-year head coach Kyle Uhrig at Southeastern, as well as, the eventual replacements at Westfall and Adena – two jobs that became available recently as Kent Wolfe of Westfall and Lou Postage at Adena resigned after just two seasons and three seasons, respectively.
Ironically, through all the resigning and hiring, the one constant is the high level of coaching that continues to take place in the SVC. Coaches are obviously leaving programs in great shape and others are adjusting quickly, because there continues to be coaches winning big as they leave, as well as, replacements winning early and often. In fact, in the past five years, four of the five league championship coaches are no longer with that school. On the other hand, two of the last three titles have been won by coaches either in their first or second season. The best example of this is probably Huntington. The Huntsmen have won two the past four league titles under two different head coaches. Randy Hauswirth led the green and white to a title in 2005 in just his third season following Todd Kellough, and then Huntington won it this past season under Rick Uhrig in just his second season following Hauswirth.
This trend looks like it could continue with the Adena position. Coach Postage took over a constantly improving program from Mike Patrick just three years ago, and now steps away from Adena with an impressive 47-20 record during a three-year stint that included a league title and two sectional championships. The replacement has not yet been named, but Adena returns arguably the league’s most talented player in Clay Roll and will most likely be one of the top two or three teams to beat in the 2008-2009 title race.
It may be too early still to know who the next Adena and Westfall coach will be this winter. Obviously, when a coach with the legendary status of Larry Jordan is available, his name is going to come up in all discussions. You also have some really solid former SVC coaches that have moved into administrative positions such as Lovely, Phil Howard, and Craig Kerns. There are some coaches that have found success in new positions like Kellough at Chillicothe and Eric Snyder, who is now coaching college basketball at Ohio University-Chillicothe. It is also worth mentioning, that Adena has several young, in-house candidates including Jason Smith, Andrew Day, and Blake Rinehart, all of which have experienced success with head coaching at the junior varsity level or assisting at the varsity level.
Another possibility at Westfall is former Hamilton Township and Ohio University star Gary Trent. Trent, who enjoyed a fine NBA career, returns home to Pickaway County, and his name has been mentioned as a candidate to lead the Mustangs this winter.
Coaching turnover isn’t just a problem in the Scioto Valley Conference. The long-term coach at one school is becoming nearly extinct. Perhaps one reason is that coaches really do need to step away to spend more time at home because coaching high school basketball has become more of a 10 month job than a four month job. The rules in today’s game allow teams to play together so much during the off-season that coaches are forced to do it if they hope to be successful at all. Over the past decade, this rule change has nearly tripled the necessary hours to have a successful program; however, the salaries at most school have not risen at the same rate. What once was a matter of how hard kids worked on their own at various open gyms, camps, or summer league teams is now more of the head coach’s responsibility to make sure these things are taking place with their respective high school teams.
“Coaching high school basketball really has become a year-around job,” said Coach Combs, who played in the SVC for Unioto from 1989-1992, when asked why he felt there was so much more coaching turnover now compared to the past. “It wasn’t that long ago when the rules didn’t allow teammates and coaches to spend much time in organized events during the summer. Now, if you do not use that maximum time, you are going to be behind the following season.”
“Twenty years ago you may have some kids go to a camp together and you always tried to have some summer camps for the younger levels as well,” said Coach Kellough. “Other than some open gyms that was about it; the overall hours weren’t nearly the same and I think today’s grind is starting to wear on coaches. It keeps them away from home more and it can have a negative influence on their health as well.”
Coaching turnover happens in all areas and in all sports; however, boys’ basketball in the Scioto Valley Conference seems to be changing at an incredible pace. Coach Jeff Lisath, who is preparing for his fifth season at Piketon, carries the longest current stay at one school in the league. The 2008-2009 season has a chance to be a much more balanced season than the this past year, which was pretty much dominated by a strong, senior-led Huntington team, but when looking for the biggest difference in the SVC, recent history would tell you to look no further than the sideline.