While Lee Peters and Mark Morehead have taken vastly different roads as high school basketball coaches, they agree on one thing.
They never predicted they would reach 40 years of service and 500 wins.
“I guess I’m just proud of the fact that I’ve persevered and kept coaching,” said Morehead, who’s been South Fort Myers’ boys head coach since 2011. “There have been times where they tell you you’re not very good or they tell you they want to replace you. But I always had confidence in myself that I would keep on fighting.”
“You either still really like the competition or you don’t,” said Peters, who’s in his second stint with Estero’s boys team after being the school’s inaugural head coach when it opened in 1987. “When we’re playing and playing well and trying to do our stuff, that’s still the rewarding stuff.”
This year, it’s an accomplishment both will tie to their legacies.
The 62-year-old Morehead, who sits at 499 and could claim his 500th win on Jan. 12 against Cape Coral, certainly took a long road to get there, coaching at 14 different schools across Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Florida before finding a home in Lee County in 1992.
The 64-year-old Peters, meanwhile, surpassed 500 wins on Dec. 15, doing so with equal parts commitment, persistence and belief over a career that’s seen him at just two Lee County schools.
“Most coaches who have done it this long, they make relationships,” Peters said. “That’s when you realize, maybe there’s more to this than Ws and Ls.”
A long road, still unwinding
Morehead’s coaching journey began after his playing days ended at West Texas State, where he competed alongside future NBA player and head coach Maurice Cheeks.
It started at Apple Springs High (Texas) in 1975, where he led a program that didn’t even feature a hardwood court — it was tile.
“It was a learning experience,” said Morehead, who grew up in 12 miles from Chicago,.
In the ensuing 10 years, he would skip around the state, coaching at a high school in Euless (Trinity), then at college programs like Sam Houston State in Huntsville and Navarro College in Corsicana as an assistant.
After a two-year stint at St. Louis University in the early 80s, Morehead went back to Navarro, followed by stops at Nacogdoches High, Arkansas High in Texarkana (Arkansas) and the University of Tulsa (Oklahoma).
At Navarro (Texas), he coached a guard named David Burns – he also played at St. Louis under Morehead – excel and eventually reach the NBA with the Denver Nuggets in 1981.
“It was a Sunday night, and he called me the day he made the Denver Nuggets,” Morehead said.
He got his first real college head coaching opportunity at South Florida Community College in Avon Park in 1987, flying across the country to sign recruits for a school that barely had a basketball tradition.
“Toughest job I ever had,” he said. “You had to recruit them and keep them there.”
But by the time he reached Florida, he found a sense of place. After South Florida, he traded a stint with North Marion High in Citra with his first job in Lee County in 1992 at Cypress Lake.
Unlike the others, Morehead’s tenure with the Panthers would be his longest to date, spanning five years. A difference of expectations landed him at St. John Neumann in 1997, before it would follow with his next job at Lehigh in 1999.
By then, he knew any kind of value on the court would be tied to commitment and longevity. And over the next 12 years, he would stay with the Lightning program, having the most success of his career.
He went 170-139 overall and won three district championships with Lehigh (from 2002-04). He watched as one of his players, Mario Henderson, went on to play for the Oakland Raiders.
“He came back and gave me a jersey that he wore, signed it,” he said. “I framed it, and I have it in my house.”
At South Fort Myers, where he’s produced 9-6 record this season, he’s found balance more than anything. Since 1992, he says he knows what works and how to get the most out of his players.. Through it all, Morehead remains lifted by optimism.
“I want to keep going as long as I can,” he said. “As long as I enjoy it and as long as the kids are respectful and as long as we have a chance to win games. I feel very good.”
Peters arrived at The Canterbury School in 1974 from Miami University (Ohio) as a young 22-year-old ready to make an impact. He did so eventually, though not before he took some scrapes.
“Those first few teams went through some up-and-down years,” he said.
The characteristic that remained with Peters was a consistency and loyalty to his programs. He stayed with teams long enough to earn recurring successes over the years. Even through tough times, he remained positive.
“Basketball in Florida has dramatically changed,” he said. “Coming from Ohio, it was light years behind Ohio and Indiana, but the quality has improved greatly.”
He debuted with Estero when the school opened in 1987, finding his greatest return over a two-year run between 1997-99, when his teams combined to go 41-17.
His 97-98 team, which finished 24-9, was three points short of reaching a state final four.
“We couldn’t get two defensive rebounds,” Peters said.
One of Peters’ most rewarding feelings was coaching sets of family members at Estero. He coached Tom Kolar Sr. in 1979 and then his son, Tom Jr., years later.
There were others who found successes later in life, like Jimmy Bischoff, who’s landed various jobs at Microsoft, and Anthony Henry, who had a nine-year NFL career.
“Those are good moments,” Peters said.
Peters still loves coaching. On Wednesday, his Wildcats beat his former school, Canterbury, 54-46.
“I like getting kids to do stuff better and improve,” he said.
Careers moving forward
Morehead and Peters began coaching before the advent of the 3-pointer. So they’ve seen a lot.
Much of it has been the game’s transition from a half-court style to an up-and-down one, but there’s also been a more nuanced adjustment.
Morehead says he hopes to keep going as long as his body and the administration allow it.
Peters isn’t sure when his time will be up, but he believes he will know it when he sees it.
“I’m not sure I ever thought about doing it for so long,” Peters said. “You just keep going and going every year and then it’s just there.”
There’s no doubt, each credit their success to perseverance. In 40 years, that fact can’t be ignored.
“I’ve persevered through the ups and downs, through the good times and the bad times,” Morehead said. “Maybe the times where someone wasn’t as dedicated or didn’t really enjoy doing this would walk away and quit. I’ve never walked away or quit.”
Next Generation of Coaches
Matt Herting, Bishop Verot
Career record: 375-185
James Harris, Mariner
Career record: 201-144
Scott Guttery, Fort Myers
Career record: 200-132