Five-year-old Elizabeth Metress played with her plush jaguar doll as her father was being announced as Augusta State's new basketball coach Monday afternoon.
"You like that jaguar, huh?" Darren Metress asked, as Elizabeth nodded in approval.
The Metress family - including wife, Heather - was all smiles as "Dip" Metress officially became the fifth coach in the Augusta State basketball program's 39-year history. He replaces seven-year coach Gary Tuell, who left for Nova Southeastern in late April.
The 37-year-old Metress left his alma mater, Belmont Abbey, after eight seasons. He now returns to the place where he earned his master's degree in 1992 and was the assistant coach for six years under then-basketball coach and current athletic director Clint Bryant.
"I'm coming home for the second time," Metress said. "The coaches have changed, but the people on campus haven't."
Metress beat out Jaguar assistant Buck Harris, former Aiken Tech coach Charles Welch and former Campbell coach Billy Lee for the job. Bryant said Metress' on-court success, as well as his unmatched enthusiasm, were selling points.
After two transitional seasons at Belmont Abbey, Metress found success. His teams went 117-66 the past six years, won two Carolinas-Virginia Athletic Conference titles, made two NCAA Tournament appearances and achieved a Division II national ranking. Last season, Belmont Abbey finished with a 19-10 record.
Metress now inherits a team that finished 11-17 overall last season and fell to second in the Peach Belt North Division after winning the title an unprecedented five consecutive seasons.
He didn't waste any time Monday working toward next season. Metress recruited in the morning before heading to his afternoon press conference.
"I'm looking for toughness and athleticism," he said. "Hopefully, we'll address those needs in the next three weeks.
"It's not about the X's and O's. It's about the Johnnies and Joes."
Metress will not bring in any assistant coaches, but instead will retain Harris, who he coached from 1990-92. Harris has been a Jaguar assistant since 1995.
"I'm disappointed," Harris said. "Being from Augusta, I felt like this is the best job in the country. Now I have the second best job in the country."
Metress now has the job of selling Augusta State to the community. Metress, who once organized a group of fans called the "crazies" in the early '90s, believes he can help increase attendance at Christenberry Fieldhouse.
"I have to be very recognizable in the community," he said.
Metress expects to make Augusta his long-term home. His in-laws live in Lincolnton. And after growing up in Washington, D.C., Metress has grown fond of the South.
"You don't ever retire and move north," he said.
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.