Just months after announcing he was handing the reins of a resurgent Cleveland High School wrestling program to his assistant, former Raider head coach Eric Phillips is looking at a new transition — accepting oversight of the entire CHS athletic department.
With Mike Collier becoming the principal at Cleveland Middle School, Phillips was approached by CHS Principal Autumn O’Bryan to gauge his interest in the athletic director position at the high school.
“A big sticking point for me in the past was having to leave coaching to take an adminstration position. I wanted coaching to be out of my blood before I looked to move on,” explained Phillips.
Luckily, he won’t have to make that decision with this move. Instead of also filling Collier’s assistant principal position at the high school, Phillips will continue teaching his leadership class and be able to assist with the Raider wrestling program.
Phillips stepped out of his head coaching spot with the wrestling program in late May, effectively swaping spots with his assistant coach Jake Yost to ensure the future of Cleveland wrestling.
Coming from one of the top-ranked wrestling programs in Florida, Phillips moved to the Cleveland school system six years ago. He orignally took a position as head coach at CMS and an assistant at the high school team under Heath Eslinger. When Eslinger accepted the head coaching job at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Phillips took his first step up at Cleveland.
During his three-year tenure, the Cleveland wrestling Raiders captured the state traditional championship in 2010, the first in 17 years for the school. The team has also been awarded several individual wrestling championships.
Now, he will have to worry about more than just wrestling as he steps to the head of an athletic program that prides itself on excellence.
“Working in collaboration with Mrs. O’Bryan, we decided that Eric (Phillips) has the expertise, experience and ability to mentor new coaches. We felt he would keep the momentum of our athletic department moving in a positive direction,” said Director of City Schools Dr. Martin Ringstaff.
“We are excited for coach Phillips and what he brings forward. He is a man of character, a man of ethics and one that has proven he knows what it takes to be successful. We are blessed to have him as a coach, but to get him as an athletic director is truly a great thing for CHS.”
Bringing more than 20 years of coaching experience to the position, Phillips said his goal is to pass on help and mentoring to younger coaches while at the same time providing assistance to the veteran coaches where it’s needed.
“It’s all still pretty fresh to me, and I’m just now starting to get used to the idea. I was pretty stunned when it first happen. I didn’t see it coming. But, Autumn (O’Bryan) and I talked out my responsibilities. I made sure my wife and kids were comfortable with the idea, and with my wife’s support I decided to make the move,” Phillips expressed.
Currently, he is already reaping some of the benefits left by his predecessor.
“Mike (Collier) did a great job for the school. He was very organized and detailed. He had already laid out a lot of the information and planning for the coming year. He also provided similar organization for all the coaches. That has made my transition even easier,” Phillips said.
He was also very excited to remain an active part in the lives of his student-athlete children. His son, Chris DeBien, an incoming sophomore, is coming off an individual state wrestling title at 106 pounds, and his daughter Samantha will be entering her freshmen year and will be taking part in the girls’ soccer squad.