By Gene Stanley/Sports Correspondent
Good assistant coaches are hard to find and harder to keep. Neither of those problems ever plagued Hokes Bluff High boys basketball coach Greg Watkins, though, as he hired Jeff Noah some 19 seasons ago.
Noah’s loyalty and hard work have now been paid back, as he is the new varsity coach after Watkins’ retirement last month.
“I’ve never wanted to coach anywhere else,” Noah said. “I was very happy being (Watkins’) assistant and hope I can continue his success.”
The Eagles have surpassed the 20-win mark for the past three seasons and won a school-record 27 games this past year while winning the Etowah County Tournament championship, the Class 4A, Area 11 title and qualifying for the Northeast Regional Tournament. Watkins’ starting center for the past three years, Isaac Haas, signed a scholarship with Purdue University in November.
“I’m not going to say I guarantee any number of wins,” Noah said. “But I guarantee we’ll be prepared and the guys will say and do the right things.”
Noah points to the ninth-grade level for a lot of the var-sity success. The ninth-grade coaches for the past few years reads like a who’s who among area coaches. Jason Shields, Jason Presley, Mike Robertson, Steve Millander and Kenny Fulmer have all taken turns teaching the youngsters. Four of those five have been varsity coaches and three of them have Final 48 experience.
“That’s something about Hokes Bluff,” Noah said. “The coaches will all help each other. They don’t just coach their sport and go home. They support Hokes Bluff in all we do.”
Shields will be the top varsity assistant this season.
“Jeff has been such an integral part of our success,” said Watkins. “He is a true student of the game and is a great coach and even better person. I was blessed to be part of a wonderful community and school with dedicated and hard-nosed players and coaches like Jeff.”