Corey Fitzpatrick was anxious to find out.
So were his players.
Westmoreland High School stayed in-house to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of long-time head coach Jason Graves as Fitzpatrick – the Eagle assistant coach – was officially named as the program’s new head coach on Friday morning.
“I’m so excited,” the 35-year-old Fitzpatrick said. “It’s the same gym I’ve been going to do for eight years, but all of sudden, in 24 hours, it’s different.
“Two days ago, I walked in there saying, ‘what are we going to do today?’ Today, I’ll walk in and say, ‘this is what we’re going to do.’ I plan on meeting with the seniors and going ahead and set some standards with the program.”
A few of his players learned of the appointment on Thursday afternoon as Fitzpatrick returned from a meeting with Westmoreland principal Rick Duffer, who informed Fitzpatrick of the decision. As Fitzpatrick joined the players for their workout routine during their strength and conditioning period, some of the Eagle seniors inquired as to whether he had been given the job.
“I’ve had a lot of well wishes,” Fitzpatrick said. “I had several come by and congratulate me. I was hoping for the kids’ sake that it would work out (this way). It does make it an easier transition.”
Hiring from within was a consideration in the process.
“Any time you have an individual for any job, you are assuming a risk,” Duffer said. “You are not sure how they will fit. I have had the luxury of observing him over last the (several) years and have seen him seek excellence in everything. To bring one from the outside in would be a greater risk because of a lack of familiarity.”
The players expect the transition to be a smooth one as well.
“It’s just going to be way easier,” Eagle senior forward Lucas Garrison said. “He’s already here. He knows our system. We’re going to stick with that same system. So, we can just go right into what we’ve been doing.
“We like Coach Fitz. He’s been with us a while. We all know him on a personal level. He’s a good fit for our program.”
Duffer received approximately 15 resumes and inquiries, thought the position was never posted online.
“He’s multi-dimensional,” Duffer said. “He’s an excellent teacher. He’s a school person. He’s family-oriented, and he has a wife (Shaye) who supports his career. He’s proven himself as a great assistant coach. When it comes to prioritizing, his career is probably third on his list of importance. He has a supportive wife and family. I considered the total package of wife and family, and everything else seemed to fit. I have great confidence in his abilities and believe he will be successful.”
Fitzpatrick added, “If there’s anybody more excited than me, it’s my wife. My wife and my kids are ecstatic.”
Fitzpatrick is a 1999 graduate of Macon County High, having played baseball, basketball and football there.
“I’ve always wanted to be a head coach,” Fitzpatrick said. “When I went into education, I wanted to teach. Part of that was that I wanted to coach. I played three sports in high school. My dad (Bob) was a coach. My dad and brother (Jamie) played at Tennessee Tech (University). I knew I wanted to coach at some level. Ten years ago, we got a phone call, saying, ‘do you know anybody who can coach basketball?’ My advisor said, ‘do you want to go to Westmoreland?’ I said, ‘absolutely.’ I got to forgo my student teaching.”
Fitzpatrick is actually in his second stint at Westmoreland High, having served as the boys assistant coach for four seasons before teaching at his alma mater for two years. He has been back at Westmoreland for the last four years, serving as the assistant baseball coach for one season and the boys assistant basketball coach for the last three years.
“I had an opportunity to pursue a head-coaching position in Macon County,” Fitzpatrick said. “That all fell through, but it all worked out for the best.
“I told Mr. Duffer that I wanted to be a head coach. I want to be here for a long time. I’m not looking to go anywhere else. My kids go to school here. I’m set. My youngest son is 19 months. My goal is to see him come through.”
Graves compiled 334 wins over 20 seasons, leading the Eagles to five 20-win seasons, two regular-season district championships, four district-tournament titles, two sectional appearances (during the 2001-02 and 2007-08 seasons) and to 16 regional-tournament appearances (including 12 consecutive regional appearances during one stretch).
Graves is expected to remain with the program as the assistant coach.
“Coach Graves had a great routine,” Fitzpatrick said. “As an assistant, I tried to never overstep any boundaries. Jason and I had a great relationship, but I tried to never overstep those boundaries. Now, I get to make my own (decisions). I say, ‘how do I want to handle this.’ It’s different, but I’m excited about it. You’re making the decisions instead of applying the decisions that have been made. Now, I’m making those decisions … what training we’re going to do in the offseason, where you’re going to camp. I expect it to be different. I’m sure that I’ll come across something from time to time and be like, ‘wow, I didn’t expect that,’ but I don’t expect to come across something that’s not going to scare me to death.
“That was the good thing about Jason. We had a good enough relationship to where I knew what he did. We thought a lot alike. Just being around him and him kind of mentoring me in that regard has helped me out. I’m not going to revamp the whole system. I’m not going to redesign the wheel. It’s going to be a smooth transition. Coach Graves and I are going to switch classes, and we’re going to switch seats on the bench.”
Though the program’s philosophy may not drastically change, Fitzpatrick indicated that he is a different type of coach in some respects.
“I’m going to be adaptive to the tools we have and what we can use, (looking at) what our players do well,” Fitzpatrick said. “Coach Graves did an excellent job of teaching how to read the flow of the game, reading the defenses. That’s hard on the defense. That’s hard to guard. I don’t plan on straying very far from that.
“As far as coaching style, he has years of experience on me and is very intelligent as far as the game of basketball. He’s been a great mentor. As I grow in this role, you’ll see some of my decision-making change. I consider myself more of a motivator. I’m more of an emotional coach. I get excited. I want that to filter down to the players. I think they can feed off of that. I try to stay positive and not negative. I’m trying to show my emotions in a positive way.”
Fitzpatrick has been leading the team through its offseason conditioning.
“I’ve had a good relationship with the players and with the parents and members of the community,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s made it a good transition thus far. I’ve taken the role in that I’m going to step in and do what we had to do. The kids have responded well.”
Westmoreland had a 19-13 record last season, placing second in District 9-AA during the regular season and third in the 9-AA Tournament before falling at Maplewood in the Region 5-AA Tournament quarterfinal round. The Eagles lost six seniors (including all five starters) – guards Landon Dunigan, Caleb Graves, Dalton Leath, Zeke Webb along with forwards Griffin Garrison and Landon Graves – from that squad.
The Eagles will return three players – Garrison, rising junior guard Dylan Duffer and rising senior forward Colton Pippin – who played extensively this season.
“This is a point I wanted to get to,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m not going anywhere. I just want some longevity.
“The good thing about Westmoreland is that you don’t see coaches coming in for just two or three years. I want to keep that trend going. I want to be here for a long time.”
Reach Craig Harris at email@example.com or at 615-575-7138. Follow him on Twitter @HarrisGNESports.