When it came down to hiring Spencer Beaty as the next girls’ basketball coach at Sequoyah High School, Athletic Director Steve Hall took the road less traveled.
“I didn’t want to talk to just his references, because everyone puts down references that are only going to say good things about them,” said Hall, who was making his third coaching hire at SQHS this year. “So I contacted people who had officiated when he coached, people who worked with him, parents, former players. And it’s fortunate how you can find out things with a few phone calls.
“And in checking on him, everything checked out, and everyone told me to hire him.”
And so on Monday afternoon, Sequoyah announced Beaty as the Lady Chiefs’ new head coach, finally concluding a search process that proceeded for more than three months after the abrupt resignation of Eddie Gambrell in late March.
“If my daughter still played basketball, I’d trust him to coach her,” Hall said of Beaty. “And those girls who are going to be seniors, I feel the same way about them, because I coached them for two years.”
Beaty’s most recent coaching stint was assistant to Maryville High School boys’ basketball coach Mark Eldridge, who guided the Rebels to three state tournaments and the state title in 2007.
However, Beaty credits as his greatest influence, by far, Maryville College’s legendary head man Randy Lambert, whom he played for from 1995-1999, then later assisted on the Scots’ men’s basketball staff from 2002-2006.
That’s the Lambert of 645 career wins and counting, fifth in the country among active NCAA Division III coaches. On the Scots’ staff, Beaty coordinated off-season development, recruiting, video, strength and conditioning, and training camp.
“Everything I know about basketball, I learned from Randy Lambert,” Beaty said. “Studying the game, film study, player development. I’ve seen him take many players that were mediocre high school players, not fit to play in Division III coming in, and he turned them into really good players, even All-Americans.”
Beaty’s entry into coaching came in 2001 as an assistant on the MC women’s basketball staff, serving that season before sliding over to Lambert’s staff.
After he left MC in 2006, Beaty took the boys’ hoops head coaching job at Gatlinburg-Pittman. He took a Highlanders program whose seniors hadn’t seen more than five wins and led it to a 14-13 season and a third-place finish in District 2-AA that featured a victory over every district opponent except Pigeon Forge. He was named district Coach of the Year that season.
Beaty left the GPHS job after that lone season to work closer to his family in Maryville, and he took the assistant job at MHS, where he served from 2007-2011. The last four years, Beaty has been the ninth grade wellness teacher at Maryville Junior High School, taking a break from the sidelines.
Beaty’s return to the hardwood involves taking over a Lady Chiefs program coming off back-to-back Class AA sectional appearances, along with a Region 3-AA championship in 2014 and a District 5-AA title the most recent campaign.
“Most coaches aren’t fortunate enough to take over a program with such success, because spots at programs like that don’t open up too often,” Beaty said. “I just want to thank God for the opportunity to get back into the game, thank the administration at Sequoyah and the director for giving me the opportunity to lead them in regards to the future.”
The recent success of the Lady Chiefs, along with Sequoyah being only a short distance from Maryville, piqued Beaty’s interest immediately.
“It’s a blessing to be with a program that’s so good, in recent years, and that just makes me more want to be a part of it.”
The next step for the Lady Chiefs would be a berth in the state tournament, but the process under Beaty will begin with some new faces looking to step up for the core of five seniors that graduated this year.
Beaty didn’t seem fazed by the challenge of maintaining the program’s recent level despite that situation.
“That’s something that every coach has to deal with every year,” Beaty said. “And we’re losing a good core of girls, but that’s part of the joy of coaching, taking new players and getting them to gel and come together, spending time in the gym, player development, and seeing them grow.
“The expectations will be same regardless of how talented we are, whether we return five starters from substate or none from substate.”
Expectations at SQHS are higher than ever, and to maintain those, Beaty stressed a need to maintain good relationships with the feeder programs at Madisonville and Vonore middle schools.
But most of all, it’s just time to dig in and get to work.
“I only know one way to go at it, and that’s go at it with everything we do,” Beaty said. “Weight room, practice, film study, classroom. That’s the only way to go with losing key players.”
As for what Lady Chiefs fans and opponents can expect to see, Beaty said he isn’t trying to “reinvent the wheel.” Sequoyah’s last few seasons have been marked by a fast pace and relentless pressure, and Beaty intends to continue that style — but be smart about it.
“Ideally, what we want to do is push them and play up-tempo,” Beaty said. “We want our No. 1 offense to be our defense. We want to play 94 feet and defend 94 feet. But we’ve got to defend in the half-court before we want to defend full-court, because a lot of teams want to defend full-court and can’t defend the half-court.”
SO WHAT TOOK ‘EM?: Hall spent the last three months armed with quality resumes, but no teaching positions to match — the reason the girls’ hoops coaching job took so long to fill.
At the time the position first opened, all Sequoyah had open as teaching positions were for chemistry, Spanish and math.
“Few coaches teach those things, so for a while, I had no opening,” Hall said. “But it rocked on there, and I tried to come up with something. I don’t think I know how many ways I’ve tried to get a coach in here.”
It wasn’t until Sequoyah hired Debi Tipton as the new principal, away from Vonore Middle, that Hall heard of a solution.
“I was told there was an open physical education position at Vonore Elementary, and I didn’t know about that one,” Hall said. “I looked online and didn’t see that one posted.”
However, while it’s likely Beaty will teach at Vonore Elementary, it’s still not finalized, according to Hall.
FRESHMAN MOMENT: Beaty’s first experience with Madisonville was as a freshman at Alvin C. York Agricultural Institute in Jamestown.
It was then that Beaty’s team faced a Madisonville High School team led by legend Andy Pennington in the substate round. Beaty, York’s rookie point guard, escaped a trap near half-court and fired to a cutting teammate. However, the teammate juggled the ball for a turnover, and Pennington hit the game-winner to deny York a trip to Murfreesboro.
“I was instantly devastated, but also driven to not let that happen again,” Beaty recalled. “Things in our lives happen just that fast, but we must move forward and not look in the mirror. If we do, all we see is ourselves and our past.”
Beaty starred as a three-sport athlete at York — football, basketball and baseball — and was a three-time All-State honoree in basketball.
He played football for a short stint at Tennessee Tech University, but desired to play basketball again. Feeling unable to play two sports at the Ohio Valley Conference level, he transferred to Maryville College, where he eventually settled solely on basketball, earning Freshman of the Year honors and leading the Scots to two NCAA Division III national tournament berths.