COVINGTON — Michael Gerald never thought he would be offered a head coaching position at Eastside again.
When the winningest and longest-tenured head coach in Eastside’s history was offered an invitation to return to the program for the 2018-19 season as an assistant under Brent Wren following a six-year hiatus, he gladly accepted.
Four months later, however, Gerald was once again running the show following news of Wren’s sudden cancer diagnosis that forced him away from the program. After leading the Eagles to a 15-10 record, Gerald found himself in the very position he never thought would happen.
Wren, who coached the Eagles for three seasons prior to his diagnosis, lost his seven-month battle with stomach cancer on May 10. On June 4, Eastside Athletic Director Phil Davidson removed Gerald’s interim tag and promoted him to head coach.
“It’s great being able to see it transition back full circle,” Gerald said. “Obviously, I never thought that it would do that. I wasn’t even pursuing that. I just felt like it would be in the best interest, on my end, to try and continue to push these guys. That was my approach to it. I wanted the opportunity to continue to make these guys see what their full potentials are and hopefully have that opportunity. It worked out and I’m thankful for that.”
Gerald called his promotion to head coach a bittersweet moment after knowing the person he was set to succeed.
“I really got to know Coach Wren around this time last year,” Gerald said. “I coached with him in 2018, but I was kind of feeling my way though. When you’ve been a head coach and come back in as an assistant, you want to make sure that you’re not disrupting something that the head coach is doing. He assured me and allowed me to bring my experience in. I was really grateful for that.”
It wasn’t until last summer that a true friendship between Gerald and Wren was formed.
“Last summer was really great for us,” Gerald said. “We got to talk outside of basketball and I saw a side of him that I did not know. That’s why it’s really difficult to understand that he’s not here. I take a lot from what he was able to do for this program and also the way he had a relationship with all of the kids and their parents. I’m just pleased that I had the opportunity to meet him and spend time with him.”
Gerald coached the Eagles for eight years prior to him stepping down after the 2011-12 season. After taking over the reins of the program before the start of the 2004-05 season, Gerald helped the Eagles to five appearances in the state playoffs and won just shy of 100 games.
Prior to his first stint as the Eagles’ head coach, he served as an assistant to his predecessor, Tommy McWhorter, who left for an opening at South Cobb.
After taking off the 2012-13 basketball season all together, Gerald returned to the court as an assistant at Loganville for the 2013-14 season, where he helped coach his daughter Aryanna Gerald for four years. Gerald also coached his son, Devin, for three years during his first run at Eastside.
Despite the circumstances that saw Gerald thrust into the interim job last fall, his return to the sidelines as the Eagles’ frontman was a welcome feeling.
“It was really great being back on the sidelines,” Gerald said. “I got to see some of my old coaching friends and even some of the officials. The transition being away from it, I felt like that time spent away was valuable in the sense that it gave the opportunity to reflect on some of the things that I did years ago.”
With the 2018-19 season marking Gerald’s ninth coaching the Eagles, the veteran said a different approach to his philosophy was taken.
“To get back in it, there were things that I realized I needed to do better than the first time around,” Gerald said. “That was a definite positive for me. I’m really pleased with the success that we had, but we would have liked to do a lot more. The guys worked extremely hard and we’re just trying to build on that success moving forward. We’ve got a good group of kids coming back and I think we can be good.”
With Gerald back working with the team for the month of June, his eagerness to get back to work has reached a boiling point, he said.
“I’m very excited,” Gerald said. “We’ve got a really good group of kids and I think the future is definitely bright for us. We’re looking forward to having a good summer and good fall. When they come back in October, they’ll be excited and I know that I’ll be excited.”