• 37°

Tuck eager for challenge

By Kevin Eckleberry

kevin.eckleberry@lagrangenews.com

LAGRANGE – Some decisions are difficult.

Others are easy, such as the one LaGrange High athletic director Mike Pauley had to make when it was time to find a replacement for Jan Fendley as the school’s head girls’ basketball coach.

During the 2016-2017 season, Stephen Tuck served as the interim girls’ coach while Fendley was on maternity leave.

Tuck guided the Lady Grangers to a second-place finish in the Region 5-AAAA tournament and a victory in the state tournament.

Pauley was impressed with what he saw during the season, so when Fendley announced that she wouldn’t be returning to the school for the 2017-2018 school year, his vote was for Tuck to become the permanent coach.

“He made it very easy,” Pauley said.

Pauley made his recommendation, the proper steps were taken, and now it’s official.

When a new season begins in February, Tuck will be the head coach, with the interim tag having been cast aside.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Tuck said. “It’s something you dream of as a kid. Ever since I started playing basketball, it’s something you dream of, just being able to coach your own team.”

Tuck, a native of Albany, was a basketball and football standout at LaGrange College.

On the football field, he had what was then a school-record 1,275 receiving yards by the time his senior season ended in 2010.

Tuck was also a member of the LaGrange College basketball team his final two seasons at the school, and he started 10 games as a senior and led the team in assists during the 2010-2011 season.

Tuck earned a degree in Early Childhood Education, and after graduation he went into teaching and coaching.

Tuck started out as a boys’ coach at LaGrange High before moving into girls’ coaching a few years ago.

Tuck worked side-by-side with Fendley, so when she announced that she was pregnant and would be on paternity leave at the start of basketball season, he was named the interim coach.

“When we started talking about what that season would look like, I asked her if she’d be comfortable with me asking if Tuck could be the interim head coach while she was doing that, and she said she felt comfortable with that,” Pauley said.

When Fendley was ready to return, she suggested to Pauley that Tuck remain as head coach for the remainder of the season.

So as the Lady Grangers made their way through a successful season, Tuck was the head coach, while Fendley was right there on the bench with him as an assistant coach.

It was, Pauley said, an example of putting the needs of the players’ first.

“She and Tuck worked that out, where she assisted Tuck,” Pauley said. “It was genius, it was the best part of what coaching is, and that’s being unselfish. And I couldn’t have been prouder of Jan and Tuck to put their egos aside and were really a great team. I think our girls got a really good dose of what love looks like in coaching. They just loved those girls, and they coached them hard.”

The Lady Grangers had a successful season.

They went 18-12, finished second to Sandy Creek in the Region 5-AAAA tournament, and beat Marist in the first round of the state tournament before losing a close one to Cross Creek in the second round.

Soon after the season ended, Fendley announced that she and her husband Rich Fendley were relocating to Macon.

For Tuck, being able to be around the players the past few seasons was a huge benefit.

“I couldn’t ask for a better transition, already knowing the girls,” Tuck said. “Being the JV coach, I had a lot of them the year before that moved up to the varsity team. And then being able to have Jan still there, where I could lean on her for so many things that a lot of times you don’t even think about when you’re an assistant coach. So being able to have here there, and being able to talk to her about anything and everything was big.”

A handful of seniors will need to be replaced, but it will be a talented and experienced team last season, so the future looks bright.

“They’re pretty excited seeing what we were able to accomplish last year, and how much we were able to grow as an entire unit, me as a coach, and them as players,” Tuck said. “We grew together as a family basically. I don’t think they wanted to have to go through that whole entire adjustment period again.”

Last season, Tuck’s wife Tarah and young daughter Karsyn were fixtures at LaGrange games, and that will be the case again next season.

Tarah serves as an unofficial assistant coach on the team, and Pauley said the team is fortunate to have her as well.

“Our girls are getting a great dose of what a male and female, married couple look like, and that are really loving on those kids,” Pauley said.

This summer, the Lady Grangers are staying busy.

The players have regular workouts at the school, and there also two camps on the schedule at Columbus State and Clayton State.

“The summer’s real vital, just introducing any changes you might want to make in the offseason,” Tuck said. “You want to get them used to that.”