Science Hill athletic director Keith Turner is signing up for double duty.
Turner said superintendent Dr. Richard Bales told him Monday afternoon that he could continue being the athletic director while taking over for girls basketball coach Darrell Barnwell, who resigned last Monday.
Turner, 47, came to Science Hill in 2001. He was the boys basketball coach at Unicoi County 11 seasons (1990-2001) and coached three years at Monterey High School prior to that.
“I knew I would get back into it again,” Turner said. “I thought it might be in retirement and going to another state or something. But I’m tickled to death and grateful that Dr. Bales and (Science Hill principal) Mrs. (Melanie Riden) Bacon are letting me follow two of my passions at the same time.”
Turner is taking over a program that will be expected to get back to the state tournament for a fourth straight season. The Lady ‘Toppers finished state runner-up the past two seasons.
Turner coached many of the current Lady ‘Toppers in the offseason when they were in Junior High. He also coached the Science Hill boys some in a fall league.
“Coaching summer stuff and all that was just my way of getting my coaching fix,” he said.
Science Hill returns point guard Tianna Tarter and post Gabby Lyon. Rising junior combo guard Keisha Gregory might not return. There is talk that her mother, former East Tennessee State coach Karen Kemp, will move back home to Georgia.
“The potential’s there to have another great season,” Turner said. “I mean, what Darrell and them have done is a hard act to follow, but I’m doing it because I love coaching and love teaching the game, and your job as a coach is to get the most out of the team that you have.”
Turner played basketball at Elizabethton (class of 1983) and Tennessee Tech (graduated in ’87). He was hired to coach the Monterey boys’ team right out of college.
He took Monterey to a sectional. It lost to East Robertson, which included former Tennessee player Carlus Groves.
Turner took Unicoi County to two sectionals while coaching players such as John English, the current Unicoi County coach, Jordan and Josh Simmons, Andy Bennett and Dustin Edwards, who is a women’s assistant at Middle Tennessee State.
Barnwell coached under Turner at Unicoi, as did Lady ‘Toppers assistant Scottie Whaley, who is expected to remain with the Science Hill girls.
“One thing that I’m real proud of is how many of those kids I coached who are in the profession now,” Turner said. “John English, obviously, is very special to me. He was my freshman coach. Me and him and Whaley coached together.”
Turner knows he’ll be busy, but that’s nothing new for a man who was doing the public address for Science Hill’s baseball doubleheader on Saturday.
“At Science Hill, I don’t think you can be the AD and coach a fall sport or a spring sport just because of the pure number of teams you have to cover,” he said. “But in the wintertime you can. … It’s not work when you love what you do.”
Turner said the timing in announcing his new role was coincidental in relation to a story in Sunday’s Johnson City Press revealing Science Hill alumnus’ Brien Crowder’s interest in the position.
“Until last Wednesday, I was proceeding with a plan of here’s some people on the inside we might look at, and here’s some outside the system,” Turner said. “I’d already gotten some emails from different people. And then Dr. Bales asked me what my interest was Wednesday, and I said, ‘Well, if you’ll let me do it I’ve always wanted to do it. I’m familiar with the girls. I know their families. It’d be an easy transition and something I’d love to do. …
“There was nothing negative whatsoever with Brien. He is definitely an outstanding coach. There’s no doubt about that. He’s a heck of a coach, always has been.”
Turner will have to do some coaching to keep Science Hill at its current level. Science Hill was ranked as high as No. 11 nationally this season, and finished with a No. 25 ranking by CBS MaxPreps.
The Lady Hilltoppers should remain one of the best teams in the state, especially if Gregory returns with Tarter and Lyon. However, they lost three 1,000-point scorers in Shy Copney, Enjelica Reid and Morgan Knack.
“We’ll get the ball in Tianna’s hands and get it up the floor,” Turner said. “I think we’ll be better defensively, but now, losing Enjelica, Morgan and Shy’s offense – that’s gonna be a big thing. But Tianna and Gabby have the potential to score more. Keisha can score. There’s three outstanding players, and then I think Baylee (Head) can be a really good 3-point threat.”
Turner also mentioned returning players such as Caprisha Webster, Grace Herrin, Melea Fenley and “three or four freshmen” that can contribute next year.
“I think that team has a lot of potential,” Turner said. “Our goal will definitely be to get back to Murfreesboro.”