Three Collier County high school boys basketball teams will have new coaches next season. While two programs have found their latest leaders, the third is trying to replace one of the most successful coaches the team has ever had.
After 23 years on the bench in Collier County, Naples High boys coach Pierre Eaton recently walked away. Eaton, 50, wants to spend time with his wife and maybe explore some new hobbies – activities the demanding schedule of a teacher and coach don’t allow.
“My wife and I want to enjoy doing other things and see what happens,” Eaton said. “I still love coaching, it’s just a lot of time. I want to try to see if there’s something else for my family.”
Golden Gate and Gulf Coast also had coaching changes this season. Brian Kelly, who finished the season as interim coach, takes over the Titans. Rob New has been hired at Gulf Coast.
Eaton led two programs – and two genders – to prominence the past 20 years. The past nine seasons he’s led the Naples boys to a 140-102 record and the most postseason success it’s had in decades.
Before that, Eaton was the founding girls basketball coach when Gulf Coast opened in 1998. He spent 11 seasons there (1998-2009), taking the Sharks to five regional appearances and one district championship.
When Eaton arrived at Naples, the Golden Eagles hadn’t won a district championship since 1995. They ended that streak in Eaton’s first season, then won three more district titles in the coach’s nine years.
Naples also had just one appearance in the FHSAA state tournament (regionals) the previous 25 years. Eaton led the Eagles to five regionals appearances and three wins. Naples won district championships and first-round regional games each of the past two seasons.
“When I took over at Naples everybody said I’d never be successful there,” Eaton said. “They said it’s a football school. I had some really good guys that first year. It all stems from the seniors that year.”
Eaton credits the Class of 2010 – Willem Hernandez, Arie Myrmo, Felipe Vasquez and especially Jordan Leach, who the coach says is one of the best guards ever in Collier County – for buying in to his system right away. Naples went 17-12 that year, one of six season under Eaton in which the Eagles won 17 or more games (there are typically 25 regular-season games).
“Because of those guys, years later we were still building off them,” Eaton said. “Everybody saw it can work.”
Eaton started coaching youth basketball when he was still in high school in Maryland. He also coached in South Carolina before moving to Naples, where he started as the boys junior varsity coach at St. John Neumann in 1995.
Eaton also spent time as the head girls coach at Neumann and a girls assistant at Barron Collier before starting the Gulf Coast girls program.
The timing is right for Eaton and his wife, Maria. Their son, Pierre, graduated from Neumann last year and their other son, Andre, graduates from Naples this month. Eaton will continue to teach economics at Naples High.
However, Eaton isn’t using the word “retirement.” He could see a scenario where he misses coaching enough to come back in some form, as an assistant or JV coach or something else.
At Golden Gate, Kelly officially has been hired as head coach after filling in for former coach Sean Richey halfway through last season. Richey was hired in June but only coached 11 games before taking a leave of absence from the team and his job as a social studies teacher at the school.
Kelly coached the Titans’ freshman team from 2015-17, but he was not a coach in the program last season before replacing Richey. Golden Gate went 3-20 last year, the team’s worst record since the school opened in 2004.
“I’m really looking forward to working toward the high expectations this program has maintained over the years,” Kelly said. “We’re committed to developing young men academically and athletically. More importantly we want to prepare them for success in life.”
This is the first head coaching job for Kelly, who played collegiately at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
For the Gulf Coast boys, New takes over for Patrick Diemert, who resigned after two seasons to take a job in financial planning. The Sharks went 10-13 in Diemert’s first season (2016-17) and made it to regionals, then went 17-8 but missed the playoffs this season.