COVINGTON, Ga. — Truth be told, none of this was on Mike Gerald’s radar.
Spending the 2018-19 basketball season as Eastside’s interim boys head coach. Brent Wren’s cancer diagnosis. The emotional ups and downs of a tumultuous season without the Eagles’ head guy.
And especially Gerald’s appointment to be Eastside’s head coach going forward.
“It’s something that we definitely were not anticipating to occur,” Gerald said. “It’s a bittersweet promotion. Honestly, you don’t want to be promoted to a position that we know that something tragic occurred. It’s tough and, again, something you’re just not planning for or thinking will happen.”
But there’s also a little ambivalence in place for the now two-time boys head coach. The job wasn’t just handed over to Gerald. He got no preferential treatment. He had to go through the same steps as everyone else to reach this place. And for that, he said he’s grateful for what the powers that be saw in him.
“From what I understand, there were several applicants other than myself,” he said. “And all those guys went through the interviewing process, and I had to go through the same interviewing process that the others had to take. So, to go through the process and to be chosen, I’m really honored and humbled by it.”
Gerald spent the 2005-2011 seasons as head coach before returning to Eastside, thinking he’d simply be joining Wren’s staff. When it became clear that wasn’t going to happen — at least as fast as originally anticipated — Gerald acknowledges that the transition was tough. But now, after all that happened, and now that there’s some permanency in Gerald’s title, the coach has slowly but surely begun to turn the corner on how he thinks about Eastside basketball.
“You know, you go into it just knowing that Wren is going to fully recover and come back, yet we all know what transpired,” he said. “But now in this situation, the way I look at it, it’s like having been away from (being a head coach) for a number of years, I feel like I’ve benefited from having the chance to step back and rethink my approaches to it.”
The 2008-09 season may have been Gerald’s banner year during his first go-round. Then, he guided Eastside to a solid 14-1 Region 8-AAA mark in a campaign that ended with a 66-43 loss to Gainesville in the first round of the state tournament.
Back then he had scorers like Rashed Dunham on his squad, as well as Rodney Martin and Josh Dalton. But one thing Gerald says he understands now is that he can’t try to force fit a coaching style from a decade ago on this generation’s athletes.
“Players are just so much more versatile than they were when I took the helm earlier,” Gerald said. “Coach (Marquis) Gilstrap was one of those players back then. Even your bigs. They all can just do so many different things now that they couldn’t do the first time around, and as a coach, I’ve gotta make sure I’m using all their gifts and putting them in the best possible positions to be successful.”
To be sure, Eastside’s talent cupboard is certainly not bare. Although eight seniors have departed, Gerald returns one of the area’s top juniors in Myles Rice. Rising senior Kenney Garrick could be a major contributor, and some new faces — and size — coming up from junior varsity could figure into the mix come November.
One of those is a 6-foot-7 sophomore named Chauncey Wiggins who’s coming up from the JV ranks. Gerald says Wiggins represents the future in terms of the kind of talent he envisions coming to Eastside.
“Chauncey’s one of those big kids that I talked about who does it on both ends,” Gerald said. “He can go inside and outside. He’s got that versatile aspect to his game. And then you’ve got guys like Myles who was an all-region player last year. He had a year to see what he could do, and that’s just going to make him better. We’ve also got some guys who were juniors last year that we’ll be counting on as seniors to give us some experience.”