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Gulf Coast coach Gaffney set to face former team

When first-year Gulf Coast head coach Phil Gaffney walks out onto the court for Thursday’s home game against Georgia Highlands, he’ll see plenty of familiar faces on the other bench.

He’ll see Georgia Highlands head coach JJ Merritt, who served on Gaffney’s staff as an assistant six of the seven seasons he coached the Chargers, as well as former assistants John Williams and Greg Schiefen.

He’ll also see some of the players he coached and recruited while at Georgia Highlands, making for a somewhat strange and surreal scenario for the coach that built the Chargers program from scratch after being hired in August of 2011.

“Yeah, it’s gonna be crazy,” Gaffney said. “Those guys are really close and good friends of mine. Obviously you don’t want to coach against your friends and you also don’t want to lose to them.

“Some of those players played for me last year and some were guys I recruited, so it’s not like I have no idea who they are. But it is gonna be strange to see them on the other side and be playing against them.”

Gulf Coast is the fifth head coaching job for Gaffney, so it’s not like he has no experience switching jobs.

The Georgia Highlands experience, however, was a pretty unique one.

“It’s more than my old school. I was the athletic director. I hired everybody there,” he said. “We started all the programs from scratch, from the logo to the colors. That was kind of like my baby. We built it and we were fortunate to have a lot of success.

“I’m glad it’s in really good hands with the coaches who have taken over for me. But it’s definitely a very odd feeling.”

Gaffney had plenty of success with the Chargers, winning 139 of 170 games over his last five seasons and taking the program to the national semifinals in 2015 and 2016.

The current iteration of the Chargers come in 2-2 with an overtime loss to No. 11 USC Salkehatchie and a one-point loss to Motlow State their only setbacks.

“They’re like a basket or two away from being 4-0,” Gaffney said of the Chargers. “You know that they’re a dangerous team and obviously they’re coming in here not happy with having two close losses, and I think they’ll want to beat me, so there’s a little extra motivation there.”

Gaffney’s new team has had a pretty easy time of it so far, with the Commodores winning both of their games over Coastal Alabama-North and Florida Coastal Prep by big margins.

With only two non-competitive games under their belt and 6-foot-11 sophomore center Deion Butler still out with a back injury, it’s hard to tell exactly how good the Commodores are at the moment.

However, Gaffney said the upcoming stretch of games - Georgia Highlands followed by contests against top five state team Daytona State, national No. 4 Indian Hills, and East Mississippi - will make that question crystal clear.

“By next Friday we’ll really know,” Gaffney said. “If we sweep this weekend and next weekend then we’ve got a top 10 team in the country. If we’re 0-4 after then we’ll go back to the drawing board and try to get ready for the conference.

“But most teams don’t have an opportunity like this to beat three ranked teams, so it’s like, ‘OK guys, if you want to be nationally-ranked, here you go.’”


 

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