English returning to coach Unicoi County

Douglas Fritz • Mar 1, 2013 at 9:23 PM

After a season away from the game, John English decided he missed it too much.

English announced Friday he would return as head coach of the Unicoi County boys basketball team. The decision was firm, he said, but not easy.

“The thing that had me torn was coaching is pretty time consuming,” said English, who is 38 years old. “This past basketball season was the first time since sixth grade I wasn’t a player or a coach. I spent time with my family, and I enjoyed it and needed it. It’s hard, once you have a comparison, to give that up. Not that you can’t do both, but it was never about wondering whether I wanted to coach. I love coaching.”

English stepped away from the program in the fall because of personal reasons, including the death of his father and his sister in the summer. Assistant Michael Smith filled in as head coach on an interim basis.

The Blue Devils got off to a very slow start, before winning 10 of 12 toward the end of the regular season. However, they lost at Cloudland, and then were upset by Happy Valley in the first round of the District 1-AA tournament.

English attended Thursday’s Region 1-AA championship game with Smith, and the two coaches talked about Unicoi’s absence from that game.

“We both said it was the first time in six years we weren’t in that game,” said English. “It is definitely a place we want to get back to.”

English said he met with the players Friday, and said everybody was disappointed with the way the season ended.

“Not to take anything away from Happy Valley or Coach (Chuck) Babb, but it was obviously tough for us,” said English. “It has definitely given me a burn in my stomach that won’t go away. Hopefully it has done the same for the players.

“They’ve all carried a pretty big chip on their shoulders. I told them if they don’t have that chip or that burn, they might need to reconsider playing.”

English said Smith didn’t have a problem stepping back into the role of assistant.

“We spent a lot of time talking about that in the last week or two,” said English. “It was a different deal. You don’t see a leave for a year, and then have someone come back. I just wanted to make sure he was comfortable with it, and something he wanted.

“I felt fortunate to have Coach Smith, Coach (Ben) Evely, and Coach (Drew) Rice there to take care of things this year.”

It was certainly a tough 2012 for English, but he said he learned some good things by the way people treated him.

“I had lot of coaches and referees and people you work with reach out with e-mails and texts and calls and stuff,” said English. “I appreciated that. You get to know a lot of people in coaching, but you get to see a different side when you go through stuff. It really meant a lot to me.”

English, who guided the Blue Devils to six straight sectional appearances, said he hopes he is a better coach from all of this.

“Every year you coach, you want to try to get better,” he said. “I hope stepping back and taking a year off will give me a chance to look at the way I approach coaching.

“I think we have a bigger responsibility to teach these guys about family and life. Winning is important, but we want to hit both things. I hope I’m better at that than I was before.”

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