Garrett Bull always looked at his prior coaching jobs as valuable experiences that would hopefully put him in line to one day become a head varsity basketball coach at the high school level.
Since graduating from Juniata College in 2008, he spent the last seven years on the sidelines at various levels, with each stop preparing him for the day when he would finally be a head varsity coach.
Well, on Tuesday night, Bull was approved to become the next head coach of the West York boys' basketball team, succeeding Bill Ackerman, who was the coach for the previous 18 seasons.
"I've always wanted to be a head coach," Bull said. "I've been coaching for the past seven years, two years at the junior high level at Central Dauphin East and then the past five years at Red Lion doing JV. So, I felt like I've been preparing myself as who I want to be as a coach."
A 2004 graduate of Red Lion, Bull also played basketball for the Lions before going on to Juniata College, where he also played basketball. Bull, who turns 31 in July, is also a social studies teacher at Red Lion and doesn't plan on changing that right now.
Ready to be a varsity coach: He said that beginning last year, he started applying for head coaching positions in the area, and West York was one of two he applied for this offseason. However, even with his recent coaching experiences, including serving as the Lions' assistant varsity coach, Bull admitted he wasn't sure what made him stand out to the West York administration, given he had no prior varsity head coaching jobs. That minor void on his resumé, however, didn't deter West York athletic director Frank Hawkins and the rest of the administration from hiring him.
"I felt as though his coaching philosophy directly correlated with ours," Hawkins said. "We focus on the student first and athlete second. Him being a teacher, he's able to relate to how important academics are to any student. Then, as his philosophy, as far as the athletic side, he knows the development of our youth programs, all the way down to our club level, and making sure that philosophy is the whole way up through high school."
Tough act to follow: No matter what approach Bull brings to the team, he'll have awfully large shoes to fill in replacing Ackerman.
One of the longest-serving coaches in the York-Adams League, Ackerman was also one of the most successful. He was 348-132 during his tenure with the Bulldogs, going 12-9 this past season, qualifying for both the York-Adams League playoffs and District 3-AAA tournament.
In his 18 years, Ackerman guided West York to 11 division/section titles, three league titles and a District 3-AAA crown in 2006-07. Ackerman turned the Bulldogs into one of the most consistent programs in, not only York County, but all of District 3, qualifying for the district tournament in 17 of his 18 seasons and leading the program to nine consecutive 20-win seasons from 1999-00 through 2007-08.
Creating his own program: Now, it's up to Bull to put his own fingerprints on the Bulldogs, but he also understands how much of an impact Ackerman had on building the program into one of the best in the Y-A League, so he doesn't want to change it completely.
"It doesn't matter if it was me or somebody else, things are going to be different than what Coach Ackerman did and I'm not saying that in a good or bad way," Bull said. "I just have to be kind of who I am. Coach Ackerman, for the most part, was running a lot of motion offense and I'll run motion, but it might be a little different than what he did and those are all good things. Those are all OK."
Bull thanked Ackerman for helping him transition into life as a Bulldog, guiding him while he ran the West York youth camp and helping him stay in touch with returning and incoming players.
Those athletes are what Bull is excited about. He got an up-close look at the hard-working mentality that is ingrained in Bulldog players when he was on the sidelines at Red Lion. If there's anything he will carry on from the Ackerman regime, it's that same work ethic.
"One thing that when it comes to West York basketball is the type of kids that I'm getting," he said. "Hard-nosed, tough-minded type kids that are going to work hard. Sports-focused kids that want to play basketball and want to be involved in other sports, and I've been involved (at West York) for the past five or six weeks now and it's exhilarating to see the excitement that the kids have and the parents and community have over there."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org