Tuley, who just completed his third season with the Eagles, took over the moderately successful program in 2011. Etowah had gone 8-6 in 2012, but Tuley became the fourth coach in just six years. Not only that, but he didn’t have a strong background in lacrosse, having never before played or coached the sport.
But Tuley did bring something special to Etowah. With a background in management, he went to work building the program from the ground up. He established a booster program and junior varsity team, and he strengthened the feeder program.
For those reasons it’s rather fitting that Tuley is the 2013 Cherokee Tribune Boys Coach of the Year.
“When I came, there really wasn’t a lot of focus on building a program and taking it to the next level,” Tuley said. “It was kind of just existing. When I came, that was the biggest thing with the support of the school and the athletic director, we started talking about building programs and not just having teams play. I really tried to focus on that.”
Under Tuley, the team has redesigned its logo and uniforms, but the transition went deeper. The Eagles brought in a new community coach in John Bristow, who has helped Tuley learn the ins and outs of the game.
“We went from a team that got knocked out of the playoffs to hosting state playoffs games,” Tuley said. “It was really a springboard coming in to this season.”
Etowah ended up in an area this season with five of the top 10 teams in the state. Six of the teams in the area were playoff teams last season, and under the tougher competition, Etowah found itself on the outside at the end of the regular season.
Tuley said he hopes the near-miss serves as a motivation for his team, which he hopes continues to evolve.
“We just started a JV program last year, so we have been able to have all that success without a true feeder program,” Tuley said. “We established a junior program this year and have a true feeder program. The booster program has been amazing. The parents have been involved in getting the program where it is now.”
As for the future, Etowah’s growth as a program will come under a new mentor. Tuley announced earlier in the season that he would be stepping down as the Eagles’ coach to pursue an administrative position.
Looking toward the future, he hopes that, as he steps away from coaching, he will look back and be proud of what has been accomplished.
“I think that was my goal all along,” Tuley said. “My career aspirations were never to come back and be a full-time coach. I really wanted to put the program in the position where I could hand it off to someone who would have played college lacrosse and have the background in lacrosse that I didn’t have to bring that next level of coaching and what we have been able to do.”
The school hopes to announce the new coach next week and Tuley is confident that it will have found the right person for the job.
“Learning a new sport is tough,” he said. “They have someone coming in who won’t have to do that and who can take the program and go.”
Over the years, Tuley has found new respect for lacrosse players and their parents. Many of the players are on travel teams during the high-school offseason and play frequently. Tuley has also learned what it takes to make a program successful and has been willing to lend a hand as other schools in the county start programs.
“Sequoyah is the only school in the county that doesn’t have a team, and they are coming along,” Tuley said. “I’ve been happy to help them along. We aren’t exactly waiting for them to catch up, but we want to help them build their programs and be supportive because it is just going to make Cherokee lacrosse better. We are already competing with the best in the state and I think that can continue.”
Tuley said one testament to the growth of the sport is seeing kids playing with sticks and lacrosse balls in their front yards, when they used to have baseballs and gloves.
“It’s great to see that growth,” he said “There is just going to be an explosion and it’s been great to be a part of it here at Etowah.”