Last week, Steve Henry, head coach of the perennial power Soddy-Daisy Trojans, stepped down, igniting a chain of events that led to a major decision by Cleveland coach Eric Phillips Wednesday.
Third-year head coach Phillips, who coached the Blue Raiders to a state championship in 2010, announced he is turning over the reins of the state-renowned Blue Raiders to someone else.
Phillips completes the changing of the guard at three of the best wrestling programs, Bradley Central, Cleveland and Soddy-Daisy. Bradley Bears coach Steve Logsdon stepped down after the 2010 season.
The decision by Phillips to give complete control of the program to assistant coach Jake Yost — a three-time state champion at Soddy and two-time Southern Conference champion at UTC — was based purely on a desire to solidify the prosperity of the program for the next 20 years.
Phillips joined the Cleveland wrestling program six years ago as coach at Cleveland Middle School and assistant to then Blue Raiders coach Heath Eslinger. When Eslinger took the job of head coach at UTC, Phillips almost followed but decided to stay in Cleveland to see to it the wrestling program stayed intact.
The departing head coach said about a week ago he made another decision which he hopes will be a win-win situation for him, his assistant coaches and the Blue Raiders wrestling program. Phillips, after talking with CHS officials and his assistant coaches decided it was time to make a move toward the future of the program. The move also ensures the duo of Yost and Josh Boskin, who Phillips referred to as, “a phenomenal young coach,” will continue to be a team for many years to come.
“I just knew that Soddy-Daisy was going to come hard after Jake, and rightly so. He is a very talented young coach,” said Phillips. “I was afraid if I let Jake go now, when I leave in two to three years as the head coach, the program was going to take a great hit. They would have to replace me and move Josh up to head coach and he wouldn’t have any help.”
After meeting with the two assistants and getting assurances everyone was on the same page for the good of the program, the switch was put into place with Yost as head coach of the Blue Raiders and Boskin as assistant.
“All-in-all, it’s a situation to keep our coaching staff together. It’s a selfless act by a lot of people in the Cleveland program that allowed this to happen,” said the new Blue Raiders wrestling coach. “I’m thankful to be given this opportunity and I’m excited about it.
Boskin’s decision to take on assistant coach responsibilities, will be a key cornerstone to the stability of the program.
“I realized he’s making a huge sacrifice for the betterment of Cleveland wrestling. I realized I’ve been hanging around for him (Chris Debien) to graduate and I don’t even need too,” said an admiring Phillips.
The move is one Yost said is a tailor-made opportunity to take over a successful and respected operation and make his own mark on the program.
“It’s a great situation for me. I’m able to coach alongside one of my best friends. On top of that we’ve got coach Phillips. He is very well respected and one I respect very much and hold his opinion very high,” Yost said of he in-place staff.
“On top of that, there is Al Miller. He has been there forever. He was the head coach at Cleveland for a long time. It’s just a good situation for me. I’m going to be surrounded by a lot of knowledge and a lot of support.”
Yost said he doesn’t feel there is a coaching staff at any program that can best the capabilities of the current coaching braintrust at CHS.
“This is a coaching staff that is hard to beat. Other programs have great coaches, but this is the group I want to work with,” he said.”
“I’m stepping into a situation a lot of people look at as pressure. I don’t look at it like that. I look at it as an opportunity to be around great people. I don’t look at it as pressure.
After a consensus from CHS Principal Autumn O’Brien and athletics director Mike Collier, and City Schools Director Martin Ringstaff, the move was made.
“I think its best for Cleveland wrestling if I stepped out of the way and give the young bucks the program. I will stay on as an assistant coach. All that’s happening is Jake and I are swapping roles. He is going to be the head coach and I’m going to be the assistant. Then when I am ready to get out, we still have Jake and Josh already in place because they are already running it and [the program] won’t take such a huge hit,” explained Phillips.
“I’ll be at practice every day coaching my guts out. But, I’m not going to be the one that could kill the program by letting quality young coaches get out. I think it is important for our future to keep these two guys together.”
Yost said he is not only interested in wins on the mat, he wants to make winners in life of the young men coming through his program.
“As long as we continue to do things the way we’ve been doing them, we are going to be successful, and not just on the wrestling mat. As important as it is for me to be successful on the wrestling mat, we want to develop good people for the community of Cleveland,” said Yost. “As long as we are going the same route we have been going, we are going to do that. The success on the mat will follow. We are all committed to that same purpose. That makes it special.”
Phillips said he plans to keep his current teaching status and is happy to be able to give a solid start to deserving personnel.
“I feel honored and delighted to be able to do this for these guys and let them start their coaching careers together and have a long career,” said Phillips. I think it’s great to be able to help these guys who helped me help this program so much.”