Phil says, ‘so Long’
It’s painful sometimes to watch a coach or athlete who has obviously hung on for too long. The game has evolved past them or the body simply can’t respond the way that it used to. It’s a tricky business knowing the right time to leave the game behind. A lot of athletes or coaches retire too early or too late.
Phil Long, a Washington High School graduate, has been coaching in the Washington system for 23 years and on Sunday, March 9 he announced that this past season would be his last as head coach of the girls’ varsity basketball team.
“Phil has always put his heart and soul into coaching our girls. He has coached at every level and been successful for a lot of reasons. The girls have always played hard for him because they know he really cares about them,” Washington High School athletic director Bryce Smeins said.
Long started coaching the Washington Middle School girls’ eighth-grade team in 1991 and moved up with that class to coaching the freshman team. Long followed that class again the next season, proceeding to become an assistant junior varsity coach. From that time on he started assisting with the varsity team, and Doug Dunlap’s departure before the 2005-2006 season left the door open for Long to be hired for the head coaching job.
“In my time I’ve seen everything that a coach and/or parent can in high school basketball, from one extreme to another. One of my daughters played on three state championship teams, starting two of those seasons. Another of my daughters played on the worst team I’ve ever had by record, 3 – 18. I’ve had all the emotions that a parent goes through from seeing your daughter suffer through a very long and brutal season to watching her have a very successful season,” Long commented.
“My biggest challenge in coaching was learning how to handle my players. I had to every year re-learn how to balance when to be firm and when to pat a student on the back. Every girl had a different thing that sparked them. It was my job to figure out what that was. The battle between making it an enjoyable experience for everyone and still not having an atmosphere where everyone was going to play just because they put a uniform on was constant,” Long explained.
Long’s decision to retire now is somewhat out of his hands.
“The only thing that’s really sidelining me now is my health issue. I recently developed brain cancer and I’ll get an update on that soon. I would do anything for these girls and they know that. That’s why I can’t string these young women along and leave them wondering whether or not I’m going to be there. That would take away all the good that I’ve brought, as it would be extremely selfish of me. These young women are ready for someone new. The cupboard is full of food here in Washington. This town has always been able to field better than average players. Hopefully the next coach will be able to build on what I’ve done in my time,” Long added.
Long finishes his head coaching career at 122 – 78 overall (.610), 47 – 25 (.653) in Southeast Conference games. He will continue to help out with AAU girls’ basketball this summer, but other than that he will have some new time to kill.
“I’m going to have to find a new hobby to occupy my time. I’ve got six grandchildren and I’m looking forward to having more time to spend with them. My wife and I are going to do a little more traveling and use our camper more. It’s going to be a difficult transition because I’m kind of a fidgety person and I get bored easily, so I’m going to have to find something,” Long said.
As far as finding a replacement for Long goes, the search will begin soon.
“We’ll start the process as soon as his resignation is officially accepted by the school board. Ideally we’d like to tie the position to a teaching job but the important thing is hiring the best candidate,” Smeins explained.
Long is leaving the game on his own terms, for the good of the young women at Washington High School and the girls’ basketball program. By doing so, his name will not be added to the list of those coaches who stubbornly held on for too long.