Disputes over control and commitment led First Baptist and basketball coach Tony Eady to sever ties Monday evening.
Eady has spent the past three seasons as head coach of the Hurricanes who — after finishing with losing records three of the four years before Eady arrived — reached the playoffs in 2017, the state championship game in 2018 and the state semifinals in 2019.
“I don’t want people thinking I walked away from First Baptist. They told me they wanted to go in a different direction,” Eady told the Moultrie News shortly after meeting with First Baptist athletics director Graham Haley on Monday. “I’m confused because the only other direction from where we’ve been headed is down. It’s mind boggling to me.”
Eady and Haley met shortly after the Hurricanes’ 102-92 semifinal loss to eventual state champion Hammond in February. Haley expressed then the school's need for Eady to be more visibly involved with the day-to-day operations, especially during the offseason. Eady has been a student concerns specialist at North Charleston High School for the past 26 years and says there wasn’t a similar opening at First Baptist when he was hired to coach the basketball team three years ago. He also works as a motivational speaker.
Unsatisfied with the progress since the end-of-season meeting, the school chose to make a move this month while high school basketball is back in session during June's open season. The decision unfolded quickly and the two sides parted ways amicably on Monday.
“Coach Eady does a lot of great things. He just wasn’t able to commit to the extent that we needed at the boys varsity level and we don’t blame him for that by any means,” Haley said. “I loved working with him. He was always a class act and a lot of fun to be around. He’s done a lot for this program. I’m going to miss him.”
While Eady doesn't necessarily agree with the reasoning of the decision, he says that he sensed changes were coming. He reasoned that his perceived lack of presence should be attributed to the limited amount of control he was afforded. He said his managerial opportunities at the private school were much different than that of the public school system he became accustomed to during his 18 years as head coach at North Charleston.
“I know when and how to prepare a basketball team. My record shows that. Never had a losing season at North Charleston and never had a losing season at First Baptist,” said Eady who led North Charleston to a state championship in 1997. “First Baptist is a fine school but I never felt like I had control of anything other than when my team took the floor. I’m used to controlling the whole organization. But here [at First Baptist], I felt like I was on the outside.”
Hurricanes assistant Antoine Saunders was immediately promoted to varsity head coach upon Eady’s severance. Saunders is the co-founder of the highly successful AAU program TMP, which has sent more than 100 athletes to college over the past 20 years and competed for a national championship in 2017.
Saunders, 53, played collegiately at Wofford, where he remains the school’s all-time assists leader. He spent more than a decade as head coach of St. John’s High School, where he earned region coach of the year honors five times, while also leading the Islanders to the school’s first region championship and Lower State title game. He won three state championships and reached three state semifinal games in six years as an assistant at Charleston Collegiate before joining Eady at First Baptist in 2017. Saunders provides continuity to the Hurricanes' recent run of success, familiarity competing in both the SCISA and SCHSL leagues and a well-established presence in recruiting circles.
“I had a great time working with Tony. We made a great team and had a lot of fun and a lot of success,” Saunders said. “I hope to continue that success moving forward. First Baptist is in a great position. The administration has been very supportive and I’m excited to continue working with the guys.”
Eady, 56, hope to one day coach again, so long as it’s the right opportunity. He hopes that it’d be somewhere nearby. He said he appreciates his time spent and lessons learned in the private leagues with First Baptist but admits that he missed coaching in the public ranks against neighboring schools.
“The passion is still there. The passion to coach will always be there,” Eady said. “If the right opportunity and situation comes along, the right situation, then boom, there’s a really good chance you’ll see me again.”