Eric Phillips, a big part of Cleveland High’s wrestling resurrection, has resigned after three years as head coach.
His decision is part of a chain reaction that began more than a week ago when Steve Henry resigned after close to 30 years as Soddy-Daisy’s wrestling coach. With Phillips’ decision to step aside, the Blue Raiders moved immediately to hire current staff member and former Soddy-Daisy wrestler Jake Yost, who had been rumored to be more than a passing candidate of interest to replace Henry.
Yost, a two-time Southern Conference champion for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, was a three-time state champion at Soddy-Daisy.
“When the whole Soddy-Daisy story broke, my athletic director [Mike Collier] asked me if I thought Soddy-Daisy would go after Jake, and I told him I thought they would,” Phillips said. “I also told him that I only planned to stay on for a couple more years.”
Phillips arrived in Cleveland six years ago with the idea of helping Heath Eslinger rebuild Cleveland as a state wrestling power. When Eslinger left to become head coach at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Phillips reluctantly agreed to take over the Blue Raiders.
“I never intended to be the head coach. When Heath went to UTC, I had the opportunity to go, but so did [then Cleveland assistant] Mike Hatcher,” Phillips said. “I had known and coached a lot of these kids through their middle school years and had formed a lot of relationships. I took over as a stop-gap until they found the right guys. Still, though, I had always planned to step aside in a couple of years.
“I had two of the best young coaches in the state on my staff in Jake and Josh Boskin. I had intended to stay until Josh graduated from college and then resign and let the two of them apply for the head coach’s job. But when talking with Josh he made it clear if Jake stayed he’d be happy to be Jake’s assistant and the club coach.”
The way Phillips saw it, Cleveland in two years could have been without him and Yost, leaving Boskin to try to hold together a program that is once again a state power.
“I was just trying to keep Jake. It’s hard to ask a guy to not take a job like Soddy-Daisy because of their tradition and their great parental support,” Phillips said. “Asking him to stay and maybe be the head coach was not fair. I want to let the young guys have it.
“I sat down with our principal, the superintendent and my AD and told them I need to let these young guys have it. They asked if I was certain and I told them yes.”
Phillips, who directed Cleveland to a traditional state title two years ago, stressed that he wasn’t trying to keep Yost from Soddy-Daisy so much as ensure the future of Cleveland’s program.
“It wasn’t competition with Soddy-Daisy. I am so at peace with this decision because I feel like it’s in good hands with these guys,” he said.
Yost did interview at Soddy-Daisy but made up his mind to take the Cleveland job before an official offer from the Trojans was tendered. He now is looking forward to taking over a strong program that he has helped polish the past two seasons.
“It’s something that got brought about with the moves in the last week or so,” Yost said. “It is going to be a good situation for me. I’m getting to coach with a good friend [Boskin] and a couple of guys that I really respect in Eric and Coach [Al] Miller.
“It’s a small school system. Not that it’s better than Hamilton County, but it’s different. You get to build personal relationships at all levels, which would be hard to do in Hamilton County because of its size.”
Yost is eager to get started as director of his own program.
“I’m lucky that I’m getting to take over one of the best programs in Tennessee,” he said. “Some have said it’s a lot of pressure, but I don’t look at it like that. I look at it as an opportunity to be involved with great coaches and great people. Pressure to do well? All we have to do is continue to do things the way we have been doing them.
“There will be some things that are different, and everybody knows that. The one thing that’s going to stay the same as it has been over the years is taking care of the kids and doing what’s right by them and putting good citizens out in the Cleveland community.”
Contact Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-886-4765.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...