ELIZABETHTON — Four coaching changes occurred Thursday morning at Elizabethton High School.
Just four games into the season, Tony Gordon resigned as head boys’ basketball coach. The school then chose to remove Len Dugger from the girls’ program and fill the vacancy created by Gordon’s departure.
That left an opening for the girls team, and Cyclones’ athletic director Mike Wilson stepped into that position on an interim basis for the remainder of the season.
Gordon left the program after just one full season. Last year the Cyclones went 12-14 and lost in the first round of the District 1-AA tournament.
After a strong summer, expectations were high for the Cyclones this season. But Gordon departed after a 1-3 start that included losses to Science Hill, Knox Bearden and Unicoi County.
Gordon, whose team lost its Three Rivers Conference season opener to the Blue Devils on Tuesday night, did not return phone messages.
Elizabethton Director of Schools Ed Alexander said the early season changes are not an ideal thing.
“The timing is beyond troubling, for the sake of the kids, the parents and the program,” said Alexander. “We’re trying to heal up, fix up and focus on stability for both programs. Both coaches have over 20 years of experience.”
Wilson would not comment on Gordon’s reason for resigning, but said Gordon will remain as a teacher in the system.
“I appreciate his effort and hard work that he put in,” said Wilson. “I’m sorry things didn’t work out better for him.”
Gordon previously coached at Morristown West, and before that led University High to a Class A state semifinal appearance in 2003.
Both Dugger and Wilson assumed their new roles at Thursday’s practices.
Dugger’s move to the boys’ program is something that has been rumored for a couple of years. He was offered the boys’ job prior to last season, but opted to stick with the girls and led them to the Class AA state tournament.
Wilson is a longtime girls coach, who guided the Lady Cyclones to multiple sectional appearances and a berth in the 2005 state tournament, where they lost to eventual champion Chester County. Wilson took over the boys’ program the following season and coached for a couple of years before becoming the school’s athletic director.
“Things will be a little awkward at first, probably more so for Coach Dugger,” said Wilson. “He is probably less familiar with the things Coach Gordon has done, his schemes and so forth. But I’ve been around Coach Dugger for 27 years, and I’m much more familiar with what he does.”
Wilson said he expects to make a fairly smooth transition back into coaching, but realizes it will take some time.
“We understand the situation we’re in, and we don’t think things will change overnight,” said Wilson. “You’re always going to be a little apprehensive. Being in the middle of the year it’s a little awkward.”
Wilson said he expects a mixed reaction from the public about the overall situation.
“With Coach Gordon’s resignation, we feel Coach Dugger is the guy who needs to coach our boys,” said Wilson. “We feel like Coach Dugger will do the job better than anyone else in Elizabethton. It’s his familiarity, the ties in the community, and the respect people have for him as a coach. Obviously he’s the right person.”