If there has been one constant when it comes to prep basketball in Gordon County and the surrounding areas over the past four decades, its legendary head coach Ray Tucker patrolling the sidelines and implementing the game’s fundamentals while shaping the lives of young athletes.
After piecing together an illustrious and distinguished career that spanned over 600 games coached, Tucker has recently decided to step down from his latest coaching position at Gordon Central and retire from coaching basketball to focus more on spending time with family.
Tucker was most notably one of the most decorated head basketball coaches in Calhoun High School history. From 1979-2004, his team’s remarkably posted a 426-223 record. His Jackets racked up an astonishing 11 state tournament appearances, finished as state runner-up once, appeared in the Final Four on another occasion and reached the Elite Eight round three times.
His Calhoun hoops squads snagged three region championships and one regular-season championship.
“We went on some really good runs at Calhoun,” Tucker said. “It’s just wonderful to see the kids, especially my own kids when they played, be successful. It was really always a big thrill.”
Speaking of his own kids, his sons Ray III, David and Craig also played a crucial role in his legacy by taking part in 19 state tournaments of their own in various sports. Ray III has also logged his time coaching with his father, reaching three basketball and three golf state tournaments.
Tucker’s influence not only resonated on the hardwood, but on the golf course as well. Tucker spent 20 successful seasons as the varsity golf coach, clinching one state title, one state runner-up, five region championships and 13 state tournaments.
Tucker collected many personal accolades during his various coaching tenures, securing a “Coach of the Year” honor from the Chattanooga Times Free Press and landing on the Atlanta Tip-Off Club’s “Georgia’s Winningest Basketball Coaches” list. He was also the State Golf Coach of the Year in 1976 and 1977.
His status as a local sports legend was cemented when he earned a spot in the inaugural class of the Calhoun-Gordon County Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.
“The great support you get from the community has been one the most outstanding features of coaching,” Tucker said.
Although a coach doesn’t collect those kinds of accomplishments without a robust knowledge of the ins-and-outs of the sport and an ability to communicate them to the players they are responsible for leading, Tucker credits the majority of his success to his wife, Pamela.
“Pam is the rock of our family,” Tucker said. “I wouldn’t have made the contributions that I did without her.”
Tucker also spent abbreviated coaching stints at Lafayette High School, his alma mater where he was a standout basketball and golf player, and Armuchee High School. In 2014, he was named head coach of the Gordon Central basketball program.
Even though Tucker’s Warriors didn’t always get the results on the scoreboard that they desired, his veteran leadership altered the lives of the student athletes in ways that aren’t always apparent in a box score.
“Ray brought so much experience of the game and life in general,” Gordon Central principal Doug Clark said. “He impacted the lives of the players more than they’ll realize for years to come. He did a fabulous job for us, just like he did everywhere else he has been.”
Although it’s challenging to replace such a seasoned leader, the news of Tucker’s retirement provides Gordon Central’s basketball program with a fresh start under the direction of new head coach Derrick Broom, who has gleaned heaps of coaching wisdom from his time spent as Tucker’s assistant coach this past season.
“Working under Coach Tucker was an honor for me,” Broom said. “I’ve had the opportunity to coach with great coaches in the past before my first head coaching experience, but after coaching under Ray Tucker, I know that I will be better prepared to be a head coach again.”
Broom, who was also head boys coach at Calhoun High for two seasons, said he hopes to infuse a winning mentality into the program and acknowledged the team has a solid core of young players that will contend in the coming seasons. In the long-term, he said he hopes he can build a sparkling legacy, both on and off the court that Tucker exemplified for so many years.
“Coach Tucker is a man of integrity,” Broom said. “He would take the shirt off of his back to help anyone in need. Coach Tucker is well-known around the community and has had major influences in many young adults lives. Whenever I retire, I want to be able to look back, like Coach Tucker is able to do, and be able to know that I had a major influence in my student-athletes lives.”
According to Tucker, the Warriors are in good hands in the upcoming season with Broom taking over at the helm.
“I’m very happy for Derrick, he’s a good man,” Tucker said. “He’s had head coaching experience and college playing experience, so that is a big plus. We had a good group of players, and they can turn into a really good basketball team if they put the work, time and effort in.”
It appears that things are looking up for both the Warriors and Tucker as he eases into retirement.
Although the name Coach Tucker will always synonymous with the success he has enjoyed on the court and the greens, he always maintained that family comes first, and being retired will give him additional time to spend with them.
“I recently went on a picnic with my grandson so I look forward to doing more things like that and having more time to spend with the kids and grandkids,” Tucker said.
When it comes to staying retired, however, his immense passion for the game won’t let him completely rule anything out.
“I turned 70 two weeks ago, but I don’t consider myself old at all,” Tucker said. “At this point, I don’t know if I’ll ever coach again, but I’m done for now. We’ll just have to see what kind of opportunities come up later.”