Like Gene Autry used to sing, one local coach is “back in the saddle again.”
For 33 years Jr. Tucker was on the basketball bench at Charleston/Walker Valley high schools — 20 as head coach and 13 as an assistant — and now after a two-year hiatus, he is returning to take over the Lady Mustang program.
The 40-year coaching veteran agreed to come out of retirement earlier this week to come back to the Walker Valley hardwood.
“This is the only job I would have come back for,” Tucker said. “I know the people. I enjoy working with Mike (Turner, WVHS athletic director) and Mr. (Danny) Coggin (WVHS principal). It’s a good situation. It seemed like the right thing to do.”
Basketball is in the Tucker family blood with Jr. joining brothers David and Gary for a combined 1,655 victories on the high school hardwood. Their sister, Shelia Cole, serves as Gary’s assistant coach at Tellico Plains. David’s son Jim is the middle school coach at Calhoun and son Jon has just been hired as the new boys’ coach at Polk County.
Gary has been the girls’ coach at Tellico for 40 years, while David has coached both boys and girls’ hoops since 1976 at Calhoun, McMinn County, Charleston, Walker Valley and his current school in Union County, Ga.
“We always played sports when we were kids and somehow all ended up coaching,” remarked Tucker. “We’ve been blessed. We still get together on Sundays at mom’s house in Tellico for a meal and to spend time together as a family.”
Jr. Tucker started his coaching career in 1973 as an assistant football coach at Whitwell. “Tommy Layne was the boys’ (basketball) coach and they needed someone to coach the girls, so I agreed,” he related.
After a year in Whitwell, Tucker became the head girls’ coach at Sequatchie County for three years and spent a season as an assistant at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe (Ga.) before coming to the old Charleston High School in 1978.
“I was an assistant football coach for five years under (head coach) Keith Beaty and I was the head girls’ basketball coach until 1998,” Jr. related. “When I stepped aside, I stayed on as an assistant for Karen Saffles-Slater for three years.” Tucker was an assistant football coach for total of 10 years.
When Charleston became Walker Valley in 2001, David Tucker switched from the boys’ bench to the girls, so Jr. agreed to stay on to help his brother.
During the duo’s nine-year tenure with the Lady Mustangs they posted 253 victories and just 54 losses, while making the TSSAA Sectional playoffs five times and a pair of state tournaments. The team won 30 games five years, plus had four other 20-plus win seasons.
Being in the same district as Tellico for the first four years, brother Gary won the first three heads-up meetings with the pair during the 2001-02 season, but David and Jr. claimed the next 10 battles, including the District 5-AA championship game in 2005.
In Jr. and David’s last two seasons together the Lady Mustangs went 61-7 and were ranked in the Associated Press’ Top 10 poll. Walker Valley played in the TSSAA substate both of those seasons, advancing to the state tournament in 2010.
After David headed south of the border, Walker Valley hired a pair of Lee University All-Americans — Jan Spangler and Jessica Stone — and asked Jr. to stay on as an assistant for a year to help with the transition.
After Spangler was head coach for a season, she returned to Lee as an assistant under head coach Marty Rowe, turning the reins over to Stone. Tucker also stepped away from the program as he retired from his teaching duties.
When Stone resigned back in May to devote more time to her newborn son, the school had to look for its fourth head coach in four years.
“It was hard to ask a man to give up fishing, hunting and golf, but Jr. was willing to do that to help us out,” declared Turner. “A lot of our younger players may not know him, but our older ones do. The others will find out he has a lot of knowledge and experience with the game.”
“I’m a better coach than a fisherman or golfer,” joked Tucker, who is also having to hang up his striped shirt (for high school games) after being on the other side of the whistle officiating basketball games for the past two seasons. Tucker is also a longtime TSSAA football official.
“Coach Tucker brings a wealth of basketball experience and knowledge to the table,” added Coggin. “He has experience at the state level. We know him, the type of man and coach he is. The future of Lady Mustang basketball is bright with him leading the way.”
Walker Valley has five players familiar with Tucker returning for their season seasons — DJ Mowery, Peyton Davis, Jaclyn Griffith, Kegan Cox and Callie Davis.
“We’ve got several girls with good experience. Their skills look pretty good,” Coach Tucker remarked. “The assistant coaches took them to a couple of camps in June.”
“We went to camp at Lee (University) and Shelbyville. We were minus two girls who were injured, but we played hard and looked pretty good,” commented Monty Frazier, who along with Jonathan Dycus are staying on as assistant coaches for the Lady Mustangs.
“The program is in good shape. We have several girls with good experience,” Tucker related. “My philosophy is first of all to play hard and have fun. We want to guard the ball and shoot open shots. We’ll have a good defense and make it tough on the person with the ball.”
When asked about how long he plans to coach, Tucker responded, “I don’t have a set timetable. I’ll coach as long as I feel like I can do it. We’ll wait and see what happens.”
“He’s a great addition to our program,” proclaimed Turner. “I’ve seen him work miracles with teams.”
Tucker will also be returning to classroom, teaching driver’s education.