Locker Room: New Cougar coach facing big challenge

I put more time into this Locker Room that I usually do because in the beginning I was uncertain as to how to approach the subject. I haven’t been that close to basketball in recent years. One big reason is I’m old and it’s cold in the winter. But I want to be fair, to the new coach, to Pulaski County basketball fans, players, and all interested people. I even researched the history of Cougar basketball just to double check my thoughts. With malice toward none and best wishes for all, here is what I came up with.

Almost two weeks ago on a Thursday evening I decided to visit the PCHS theater and meet and listen to new boys basketball head coach Tyler Cannoy as he met the public for the first time. I was curious just like anyone else.  Franky, it was a disappointing turnout.  Let’s just say there was a crowd that numbered less than 50.

I’m sure it disappointed Cannoy. It would have disappointed me. But if it did, you could not tell it. And to be totally up front, had there been a few outstanding basketball players in the crowd and over a 1,000 fans then the job would probably have not been vacant in the first place.

4 26 Tyler Cannoy 1
Tyler Cannoy

Pulaski County has hired Tyler Cannoy to build a basketball program. Sure, there’s been one for 45 years, and yes, there have been some high times, but they have been spaced out. In the early years of Pulaski County there was good talent and size with such players as Terry Smith and James Bruce. There were the good years led by 6-5 Ron Shelburne. There were back-to-back exciting years that included Mike Porter and Todd Hopkins, and a trip to the state tournament.  But it also needs to be said that Porter and Hopkins were both transfers. Then there were the years of Jeff King. But there have been big gaps in between, and PCHS is suffering through one of those presently.

But there have also been numerous competitive seasons over the years. Through the 80s the late Allen Wiley coached teams won Roanoke Valley District and Region titles. His teams were well coached. I enjoyed the one when Wiley had the Gibson twins, Larry and Gary, and ran the “four-corners.” Problem is today you can’t do that. And so were the seasons years later when one of his former players came home to Pulaski County. Mark Hanks’ teams were consistently competitive, and he put Cougar teams into the playoffs several times. Hanks moved into administration and is presently enjoying retirement. However, I feel confident in saying it has never been easy for Pulaski County to be competitive in basketball, and any other athletic program for that matter. You better work hard, and I mean work hard!

But when Buzz Williams made his first public appearance at Virginia Tech just over five years ago there wasn’t much hoopla then either. He had to do the same thing Cannoy has to do. Build it. Over the years basketball has been an up and down sort of deal for PCHS. It has not been consistent. By listening to Cannoy you can tell he wants a program, not just a good season, but a program, one that is competitive every year.

Give him a chance. PCHS basketball fans must understand there was not a plethora of applicants to interview. It was not a highly pursued job at all. Cannoy was in fact

pursued by Pulaski County. He was because it was felt that he was likely the best guy the school could land. I see no reason to disagree with that. Give him a chance. Don’t think negative things before the fact. Hope for positive things and success for the future. Its likely Cannoy is going to need a bit of understanding. It’s a tough job. The Cougars haven’t sent anybody to the ACC recently. Again, give the man a chance.

4 26 Tyler Cannoy 2Much of what he said to the gathering was impressive. He spoke of a family attitude, getting a good education, faith, and then basketball. He says being in a good program is about all those things, and he will stress all those things. Sounds good to me.

And yes, Cannoy realizes he’s not coaching at Rural Retreat, or Wytheville Community College. He is fully aware of the challenge he faces. He is aware of the increased level of play. He is totally aware that when you don’t win the coach gets blamed. His predecessor Andrew Hart took a lot of heat and blame for the program’s lack of success during his time. However, that didn’t bother Lord Botetourt, they just hired him to take over their basketball program. Just simply blaming the coach all the time is too easy, and often only an excuse for frustration.

And I will give you one major hidden fact and it puzzles me why this hasn’t been reported, but the program improved dramatically under Hart’s direction. Hart’s teams finished one game below .500 for five years, 65-66. From just a numbers standpoint that’s not very impressive, and I’m certain Hart wasn’t pleased with that record. But consider this. In the previous five seasons before Hart took the job, the program record was 32-77-1. Now Hart’s marks don’t look so bad, but it’s also further proof that the program has been struggling, and it has periodically over the years. A bit of reality is necessary. Cannoy will need Cougar fans to have that understanding. He, and any new coach, deserves that. He’s taking over a program that has gone 97-143-1 for the past 10 years. That’s basically a winning percentage of 40. I’m betting he does better than that.

When asked about his style of play Cannoy indicated he would let his players determine that. “If we have a couple big guys we’ll try to make people work, rebound, and be tough in the half court. I would rather be quick enough to put pressure on the ball, play the full court and go, and if we’re quick, and can get after people that’s what we’ll do. How we play will depend on what our players do best, what they are suited for,” said Cannoy. Makes sense to me.

Cannoy also expressed an attitude that he wants what’s best for PCHS. He wants all the athletic programs to succeed.

“I know basketball is not number one at Pulaski County. Everybody has known that for years and years. But I want to make basketball important to our school and community. I want this school to have the best overall athletic program around. I want our players to be successful. On Friday night you’ll see me at the football game rooting for our football team, and I certainly hope they will pull for our basketball team. I also know that we have some kids who play both sports, and I will not expect a player on the football team to be involved in basketball during football season just as I expect that during basketball season, he’s about basketball. I know how big this job is. I understand who Pulaski County is. I am aware this is Class 4. I realize I’m not at Rural Retreat. I know that. But I’m excited about taking on this challenge. I’m confident, and look forward to it,” said Cannoy.

There have been rumors concerning potential basketball transfers. Cannoy answered straight up.

“I know of one transfer coming from a Class 1 school. But what everybody needs to understand is that every player will get treated the same and given the same opportunity. All the players that return to the program, any new ones we might have, transfers, or what have you, will all get an opportunity. The ones that are determined to be the best will be on the court. As far as I’m concerned everybody is new. I’m new. We will learn together. Everybody will have a chance. I want as many kids as possible in the program.”

Cannoy continued. “I want the kids to know it is their program. I’m going to coach it, but I will listen to them. We’re all going to be in this together. I welcome all suggestions, and will listen to every player. I’d like to think I’m a player’s coach. I want Pulaski County to have a good basketball program. We’ve got a lot of work to do. So let’s get to work,” said Cannoy.

I found all of Cannoy’s remarks to be positive. I liked his enthusiasm. He appears to be a guy with lots of energy. He appears to be the kind of coach Pulaski County needs for its boys basketball program. Now it’s time for him to start getting the parts put in the right places. He had his first open gym last Friday and I understand it went well with lots of enthusiasm. It’s time for him to learn what he has to work with, and what he doesn’t have. It’s time to begin the process.

I think the powers that be in the Pulaski County school system did the best job possible and found what they felt was the best man available. Give him a chance! Over time, you just might fall in love with him.

By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot