Originally created 04/28/04

Jags strive to fill coaching void



Augusta State finds itself in a crunch with the departure of seven-year men's head basketball coach Gary Tuell.

In the midst of recruiting season, the Jaguars seek to replace Tuell and have enough time to fill its team for next season. A short list of candidates has emerged, and athletic director Clint Bryant looks to have someone in place within the next two weeks.

"We need to get something done ASAP," he said.

According to sources familiar with the situation, Augusta State has four candidates in mind for the position including former Aiken Tech head coach Charles Welch; Augusta State assistant coach Buck Harris; Belmont Abbey head coach and former Jaguars assistant Dip Metress; and former Campbell University head coach Billy Lee.

"I'm going to go and talk to some interested people who are qualified," Bryant said. "I'm not at liberty to say who those people are."

Whoever is hired will find himself in a difficult situation. The Jaguars lose four seniors off its 12-player squad, including three of its top five scorers. Peach Belt Freshman of the Year Tommy Greer heads up a list of returners, which includes five players averaging less than five points a game.

But, according to one source, Greer has already spoken with Bryant about a release.

Of the potential coaches, Augusta State is most familiar with Harris, who has been associated with the school for more than 10 years as a coach and player. Harris, who graduated from Westside and Augusta State, has spent the past seven years learning how to run a basketball program under Tuell. Harris is currently heading up the Jaguars' recruiting efforts.

"(Tuell) is a basketball junkie, so that rubs off on me," Harris said. "I wanted to learn as much as I can."

Harris endured his trial by fire, leading the team into battle in January 2001, when Tuell underwent an emergency appendectomy. As the Jaguars' acting head coach, Harris led the team to a 4-1 mark in Tuell's absence.

Welch followed then-Augusta College as a youngster and took his wife on their first date to a Jaguars basketball game. In 13 seasons with the Knights, Welch accumulated a 274-136 record with nine region titles and four national championship tournament appearances.

With additional teaching duties at Aiken Tech, Welch resigned in March because he felt he was being "spread too thin."

"Part of my desire in coaching basketball comes from seeing some of those teams Marvin Vanover had in the '70s," he said.

Metress earned his Masters of Education in Supervision and Administration from Augusta State in 1992. He served as a graduate assistant under Bryant and for the past eight seasons has led Belmont Abbey. The Crusaders finished last season 19-10.

While at Campbell, Lee accumulated a 216-286 mark in 18 seasons.

Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or chris.gay@augustachronicle.com.