Tigers tap rival for coach

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Central hired Jackson assistant coach Drew Church.

Central High School lost its volleyball coach to Jackson during the summer, and on Wednesday the Tigers returned the favor by snatching Indians assistant basketball coach Drew Church for their head coaching vacancy.

Church, who fills the vacancy created when Derek McCord resigned a little more than two weeks ago, was chosen from a field of about 10 official applicants..

"I'm excited," Central athletic director Mark Ruark said. "He's a fresh face, and I think he's a rising coaching star. He's got a great background and played and worked under some great coaches."

This will be the first head coaching job for Church, 27, who served as Jackson's junior varsity coach last year under Darrin Scott. Church served as assistant at Jackson the last two years and was a student assistant under Gary Garner at Southeast Missouri State University from 2002 through 2004. Before working under Garner, Church served one season as an assistant at NAIA school Bethel College.

"I'm really excited," Church said. "It's a great opportunity. It's a great program with lots of tradition and a good reputation."

Church played high school basketball in Charleston, Ill., and he went on to play NCAA Division I basketball at the University of Evansville. Church got to play in the NCAA Tournament while at Evansville.

Ruark said Church's familiarity with the conference and Central's players helped give him an edge, along with his playing and coaching pedigree.

"This time of the year we wanted to get someone familiar with our players and the SEMO Conference, and he fit both those bills," Ruark said. "I wanted someone with Division I playing experience, and he had that, and I also wanted someone who had coached at the college level."

While Ruark said the Tigers got their man, having a coaching opening in the middle of July made the process a difficult one.

"I don't think there's any doubt about it," Ruark said. "Not very often are people looking for a head basketball coach on July 25. No question the timing of Derek's resignation really put us under the gun to find a coach.

"At this time of the year, the problem is everyone's under contract to another school district, so before you hire them they have to be released from their contract."

Added Ruark: "Even had the opening come at the end of the basketball season, Drew's a strong candidate and is certainly the guy we wanted."

The Tigers now have to fill their assistant position, vacated by Will Johnson.

"He'll [Church] certainly have input into who the assistant will be," Ruark said. "Our situation is a tough one because we don't have a teaching position for the assistant, so we'll have to get creative."

Central finished 15-12 this past season, losing to Poplar Bluff in the district championship game. The Tigers have not won a district title since 1997.

The Tigers only lost one senior starter and will have a talented junior class, led by guards Jajuan Bell and Adrian Cox.

"I haven't gotten to know my team well yet, but there's always high hopes," Church said. "Coach McCord did a great job with them building a good foundation. There's a lot of strengths here, and we'll try to build on those strengths."

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