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Simmons Says - Searching for next WCHS girls coach
WCHS girls coaches

Most of the time, I really enjoy a coaching search. It’s one of my favorite times as a reporter because you get to decipher what’s real and what’s crazy – with the rumor mill usually churning up some truly outlandish things. This time, I wish I wasn’t reporting on a job opening at all.

You can read my column in Wednesday’s Standard for my full thoughts on Anthony Lippe, but suffice to say I believe it’s going to be really tough for Lady Pioneer basketball to replace him. His work in four seasons was truly remarkable as he’s been a driving force behind the only three winning seasons for the WCHS girls this century (Lippe was a vital assistant under Erick Baird during the 17-15 run in 2013-14 and was the leader of back-to-back, 20-plus win seasons the last two years).

Trying to replicate him is impossible because his success was improbable. He’s one of the few coaches I’ve covered over the last 13 years that was an “out-of-towner,” who was able to earn instant embrace in Warren County. Granted, a lot of the love showered on Lippe was because he won at a rate that hasn’t been seen locally in girls basketball since the 1970s.

Alas, the program must endure. Hopefully, instead of merely floating back to mediocrity (or worse), the Lady Pioneers will continue to build on the groundwork Lippe laid over the last four years and become a true force in the Midstate. They were all that and more the last two years.

I couldn’t fit everything Lippe said in our interview Monday in the paper Wednesday, but here’s a few tidbits I thought were worth mentioning that Lippe noted:

Lippe talking about the workload: “People don’t see all the preparation that is put in to compete at the highest level. The work it takes to go from people not recognizing us to being in the top 10 in the last two years is tremendous. When I’m at home, I’m not at home – I’m scouting, I’m watching film. It takes away from your family time.”

About his legacy: “I’ve got young kids and I want my legacy to be that I’m there for my kids. You don’t want to look back and have your kids say, ‘He coached all those games, but he never seemed to make it to mine.’ I want to be a dad first.”

About the last four years: “We built a culture where kids wanted to be part of it and it was fun. If it’s not fun, kids won’t want to be a part of it. We wanted the community to be proud and it be a lot of fun. We wanted to prove we could have success in Warren County and I believe we did that.”

I can’t stress it enough: Warren County is going to miss having a coach like Lippe. But, time marches on and a new coach will be need to hit the ground running soon.

While I’ll never be invited to hire coaches in Warren County, I’m never shy about giving out my two cents on who could possibly be a fit. Therefore, I’ve put together my own hot board. Here’s a collection of names I’d have on my list if I was looking to keep the Lady Pioneers hoarding wins on the hardwood in the future.

Before we get to the full list, I want to stress: This isn’t a ranking system by preference. I wanted to put potential candidates in groups and came up with six different ways to pull them all together. Now that I’ve offered that clarification, let’s get to it!

Jessica Grayson
Jessica Grayson would a be a dream hire for WCHS.

Group 1 – Dream Scenario

Jessica Grayson

This hire would check all the boxes. Grayson is a decorated former Lady Pioneer, played in college, has several years of college coaching experience and, by all accounts, is beloved in the community to this day. In a dream world, Warren County would have the resources (and money) to entice Grayson to come home.

Sadly, I doubt that’s the case. I’ve only had a few chances to talk to Jessica over the years, but the last time we chatted, she seemed to absolutely adore the college game. She’s regarded as an ace recruiter, been on multiple staffs that guided groups to the NCAA tourney and it feels like only a matter of time before she lands a head coaching gig at the next level.

While I’d love covering a WCHS team led by Grayson, I think I’ll hold out and write a story when she’s leading a college program.


Group 2: Around-the-area standouts

Joe Pat Cope, Coffee County

Michael Dodgen, White County

Tyler Sapp, Van Buren County


I don’t think we have to spend much time here, even though I think they all more than warrant a mention. I couldn’t see any leaving their current jobs to come to Warren County, particularly Cope and Dodgen (where they’d be joining one of their biggest rivals after years of cultivating district champions at their current locations).

Sapp may have the most Lippe-like vibes of anybody on this list (he’s young, he’s well regarded in coaching circles already and comes from a small town in Tennessee so he knows how much teams mean to their communities), but he’s coming off a run to the state tournament at Van Buren County and has a great roster returning.

I’d give all these guys a call, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a short conversation that ended with, “no thanks.”

Warren and Holt
Brent Warren, left, has been on the Lady Pioneer coaching staff for four years with Lippe and JW Holt has multiple years of head coaching experience at WCHS.

Group 3: The assistants

Jim Carden

Brent Warren

JW Holt

Gina Holt


Lippe wasn’t on his own on the sidelines this year; He had four assistants there with him every step of the way. I listed them by the amount of time they’ve spent on the bench with Lippe (Carden and Warren have been around the whole time, joining Lippe’s staff shortly after he was hired at WCHS in 2019).

Warren probably has the best basketball resume to his credit, having already served as a head coach at Boyd locally and winning a NACA title with the Lady Broncos (Carden was right there with him, it should be noted). JW, on the other hand, probably has the longest coaching resume as he’s been a golf, baseball and basketball coach at Warren County (I may be leaving some sports out – JW has pretty much done it all).

Ultimately, I don’t know if Warren County goes the route of promoting from the bench. They didn’t do it last year when Chris Sullens vacated his spot and one of his assistants tried to take the reins and even Lippe had to take the long way back to the Lady Pioneer bench after serving as a lead assistant for Baird back in the early 2010s. 

Mendy Stotts
Could Mendy Stotts be the latest coach to move up from WCMS to take a high school coaching job?

Group 4: The locals

Mendy Stotts, WCMS

Tim Page, Boyd

Kyle Cannon, Eastside

Kelly Eckenrod, Centertown


This could be a sweet spot if you’re looking at past hiring habits, particularly in WCHS basketball. The last two Lady Pioneer coaches both previously coached at WCMS (Shea Panter was promoted straight from WCMS, while Lippe coached boys at WCMS early in his career), while Sullens came to the boys team straight from the Broncos seven years ago. Danny Fish’s hiring last year may have bucked that trend though, if you’re looking for hints on how the new regime (Principal Chris Hobbs and WC Director of Schools Grant Swallows) may handle coaching searches at WCHS.

Stotts is coming off an incredible season with the WCMS Lady Pioneers and knows exactly how much talent is present with the current eighth graders in the county. Stotts, or anybody who gets the job, would probably need to be granted the same leeway Lippe had in his first year (when he brought back zero returning starters and just a couple players who had any varsity experience – the same fate facing the 2023-24 team). But, if Stotts could cultivate the same kids that she just pushed to 22 wins and a TMSAA sectional appearance at the high school level, perhaps she could have a Lippe-like run in a few years.

Before I get to Page, let me offer this as full disclosure: I was the assistant coach of the Lady Broncos this year, so I know everything after this will seem to be written while wearing orange-colored glasses. I’m OK with that.

Page has been a revelation at Boyd the last three years, turning the Lady Broncos into one of the premier teams in the TSIAA. Boyd has won 58 games the last two seasons and could pile up even more wins in 2023-24 as 11 of the team’s 12 players are set to return.

I’ll go ahead and offer some real insight here: I don’t think any offer from WCHS would entice Tim to leave the Lady Broncos. He loves where the program is at and wants to continue building on the foundation he’s set at Boyd.

Cannon and Eckenrod are coaching legends in the WC elementary league (though Eckenrod stepped away at Centertown for now). Cannon has the most recent championships in the league and offers plenty of experience leading talented Winfrees (Sable Winfree will be a senior next year and her younger sister Sarah Kate is on track to be a local star as well). Eckenrod would tie the program back to its state championship roots of the 1970s and is just as fiery now as she ever was.

I think both Cannon and Eckenrod would be great assistants at WCHS if they didn’t want to pursue (or didn’t get) the head coaching job.
Tim Page
Don't expect Boyd coach Tim Page to pursue a move to WCHS after leading the Lady Broncos the last three seasons.

Group 5: Running it Back

Shea Panter
Ryan Smith
Erick Baird

If the Lady Pioneers want a redo, they could try to pry back Panter or Baird. And while Smith never coached the Lady Pioneers, he was the head coach of the boys for several years (He later went to Covenant and won championships with both the girls and boys teams).

I’m not going to dive any deeper here. If asked, I think all three would offer a swift “No,” as a rebuttal (Baird may add a few extra choice words before and after his no as well).


Group 6: The Wildcards

Shala Ferrell

Tyler Hillis

Jeremy Wilhelm

Stephen Glenn

Jaylen Johnson

Isaac Slatton

Jeff Chisam

Leanne Morrison

Elsa Eckenrod


The hot board is thorough, so I wanted to go to great lengths to gather as many names as possible. You’ve read 1,500 words already – is it going to hurt to read a few more?

Ferrell is a true wildcard that shouldn’t be dismissed casually. She coaches at Manchester Westwood, has significant AAU ties in the Midstate and – if I recall correctly – has a super-talented daughter about to enter high school. While I’m not suggesting the Lady Pioneers go the UT route when the Vols hired Wade Houston to get Allen Houston, I don’t think you just shrug off good talent when it comes along with good coaching.

Just last year, the Pioneers hit the jackpot with Danny Fish. He may have seemed like a wildcard since he had been coaching girls basketball for years, but WCHS bet that his coaching would translate to the boys game and that he knew how to succeed in rural areas. It was just an added bonus his son, a freshman on this year’s district championship team, came along for the ride.

Ferrell knows how to succeed at small schools, comes in as a bit of a wildcard since there’s no direct tie to Warren County (although it’s not like she’s from the moon – Manchester is 20 minutes away) and could bring a potential 1,000-point scorer with her as well. That’s quite a few boxes being checked off.

Tyler Hillis gets mentioned every time I do a basketball hot board, but I don’t think he’s ever leaving Sparta now. He played at Warren County though and the Lady Pioneers already lucked out once plucking an assistant off Eric Mitchell’s bench (Lippe was an assistant in Sparta for a year).

Wilhelm, Glenn and Johnson were all in the mix for the boys job last year. Maybe they would express the same amount of interest for taking the girls job.

Slatton and Chisam are both AAU coaches locally who obviously enjoy trying to improve girls basketball in Warren County. Slatton also has experience with the Lady Pioneers as an assistant (and was also a head coach at Centertown too). Both are former WCHS players.

Slatton would have a leg up since he’s already a school employee. I’m not sure if Chisam (or Johnson) would satisfy TSSAA requirements if they planned on being non-faculty coaches. There used to be a rule about needing a minimum number of years as an assistant to become a non-faculty head coach, though I don’t know if that rule still applies. I’m 100 percent sure Swallows, a member of the TSSAA Board of Control, would know before he sits in on any interviews (To be clear, I don’t know who will be on the decision committee to determine the next coach, but I’d be shocked if Swallows isn’t at least consulted).

Leanne and Elsa are decorated former Lady Pioneers who have each been seen on sidelines in Warren County over the last few years too. Seeing Leanne just left coaching at WCMS and Elsa has already landed college coaching gigs, I doubt they’d be interested in this job, but I told you I’d be thorough.

I love doing the reporting on coaching searches, but what I won’t be is a prognosticator. Unlike other coaching searches in the past, when I already knew who was going to be the coach the moment the job opened, I have no clue who will be the coach of the Lady Pioneers next winter. I wish them the best of luck though.

Lippe just showed that a sleeping giant was laying dormant in Warren County for decades, but it can be awakened. If the next coach can keep the Lady Pioneers rolling, they will enjoy endless support from a community that loves winning basketball.