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DWS hires new girls hoops coach from rival Westfield

Before coaching at Westfield for eight years, Jeff Eubanks led Gatewood to three straight state titles and a 58-game winning streak.

Before coaching at Westfield for eight years, Jeff Eubanks led Gatewood to three straight state titles and a 58-game winning streak.

ALBANY — Open Jeff Eubanks’ closet any time during the past eight years, and you’d likely find plenty of green as the girls basketball coach of the Westfield Lady Hornets in Perry.

On Wednesday, however, he ditched the old garb for some new threads: Deerfield-Windsor red.

Eubanks, a native of Calhoun County and Southwest Georgia Academy grad, returned to his roots by accepting the girls head coaching job at the Albany private school, where he said he’s glad to finally be walking the sidelines of the gym he’s always admired — and sometimes even feared.

“It’s one of the elite jobs, elite sports programs (across the board), in all of GISA,” Eubanks said. “When you walk into W.T. Henry Gym and you see all those banners — and not just in basketball, but all the sports they’ve won championships in — as an opponent of them for the last years in the same region at Westfield and before that at Gatewood, it can be a little intimidating.

“But now I’m a part of it, and I look forward to continuing Deerfield’s winning tradition. I couldn’t be happier.”

Eubanks joked that he “had to go deep into my closet to find a red tie” before Wednesday’s introduction at the school, where he met with the team and explained his coaching philosophy.

“It was a chance to get to know them, to meet them and have them tell me a little about themselves,” said Eubanks of the Lady Knights’ team, which will be in rebuilding mode during the coach’s first year after DWS lost five seniors from this past season’s Class AAA Elite 8 squad that went 23-5 and won the region title. “And it was also a chance to tell them a little about my philosophy and go over our summer workout plans. I think it went great.”

Deerfield athletic director and boys basketball coach Gordy Gruhl expects nothing short of greatness for the long-time powerhouse program out of whomever replaced outgoing coach Ty Kinslow, who led the Lady Knights to one Final Four in five years on the job before leaving after last season to accept the headmaster’s job at Southland Academy.

“I’m picky about all the jobs we hire for, and especially this one because this is a sport I coach myself,” Gruhl said. “That being said, Jeff was the guy I felt very comfortable with. He’s very committed, he knows how to run a basketball program and the questions he asked during our interview told he’s the guy who can continue to build our program and keep them at a high level. He’s a veteran coach who loves the game, and we’re happy to have him.”

Gruhl and Eubanks’ paths, however, have crossed before.

During Eubanks’ time as coach at Gatewood — where he won three state titles in Class AA — his team, at one point, had a 58-game winning streak that was snapped by none other than (you guessed it), the bigger Class AAA Lady Knights, who were coached by Gruhl back then.

“They beat our butts,” Eubanks said with a laugh before adding: “It snapped the streak, but we still went on to win it all that year for our third straight title, so no hard feelings.”

Eubanks’ path to Albany featured a long and winding 24-year coaching career that began after he graduated from SGA in 1983 and became a health and physical education major at Valdosta State, where he earned his bachelor’s degree and immediately found a job out of college in the coaching ranks at Echols County.

Shortly after, Eubanks then had a chance to come back home for the first time when Randolph Southern came calling shortly after and he and wife, who is a native of Vidalia, moved to Shellman, where he led the Patriots to a state runner-up finish in his only season on the job. It only lasted a year in Shellman because the bigger classification Edmund Burke came calling and hired him to take over the boys and girls program.

Eubanks, however, then had another chance to come back home for a second time when his alma mater in Damascus made him an offer he couldn’t refuse one year later, so he returned to SGA and coached for the next five seasons. Another promotion took Eubanks to Gatewood from there for six seasons, and he won his first of three state titles before accepting the job at Westfiield, where he’s worked for the last nine years. Up until last year, eight of those were spent as the head girls basketball coach, but two years ago Eubanks was offered a host of administrative positions with Westfield. And in 2010, he tried to wear three different hats at once, while also coaching basketball.

It was simply too much.

“I’ve always wanted to get into administration and I became Westfield’s director of buildings and grounds, assistant principal at the upper school and director of transportation, and I also tried to keep coaching basketball,” he said. “But after one year of doing it, the perfectionist in me realized this was too hard and I decided to just focus on my full-time duties as an administrator.”

The itch to coach, however, slowly came back, prompting Eubanks to apply for the position at Deerfield when it came open.

“Some people think I just missed the winning and coaching, but I really missed the relationship with the girls and the team bonding,” said Eubanks, who has more than 400 career wins and hopes to earn No. 500 while at Deerfield in the coming seasons. “Plus, as the assistant principal, you have to be the bad guy sometimes, and as a coach, you’re often the good guy. I missed that, too.”