After 31 years as an assistant, Mike Gates is finally taking the first chair on the Chipley sideline.
Gates, who also coached RoulhacMiddle School basketball for the past 31 years, was picked to succeed Joel Orlando as head coach of the Tigers after he resigned from the job earlier this month.
It’s an opportunity that was a long time coming for Gates, who said he was happy and ‘humbled’ to finally get a chance to coach the varsity team.
“I always thought toward the end of my career that I’d like to coach varsity,” Gates said. “After coach Orlando stepped down, there were a lot of people in the community and some school board members trying to get me to take it. I had an opportunity to (pursue the job) years ago, but I wasn’t ready to give up my job at the middle school. I thought this was the right time to do it.”
Unlike most new head coaches, there will be no transition period in terms of getting to know the players, most of whom Gates coached at Roulhac.
The coach said those relationships played a big role in his taking the job.
“I know all the kids, their parents and their families,” Gates said. “I didn’t just coach them, I coached their mommas and their daddies. When I took the job, every one (of the players) was tickled. Some of their parents called me. These kids wanting me to be here was important.”
Gates, 55, is taking over a Chipley team coming off of a 1A state championship, the second title in the last four seasons for the Tigers. He said that Orlando will remain at the school as a teacher.
Chipley returns four of its five starters from that team, including star senior Trent Forrest, who has led the team in scoring the past three seasons.
Gates said he knows what the expectations are for this team, but he’s not looking that far down the road.
“I look at it one game at a time,” Gates said. “We’ve got goals within the team. Everybody’s goal is to win the state championship. We’ll just work as hard as we can and play as hard as we can. As long as we do that, we’ll be fine.”