One question has been debated for several years, regarding the coaching career of Ingomar’s Norris Ashley. The long-time coach of the Falcons answered it on Monday, retiring from the school after 41 seasons, 43 overall in coaching. For the state’s winningest basketball coach, this was an easy decision.
“Honestly, I made my mind up earlier this year,” Ashley said on Wednesday. “During the season, I just realized that I’m getting old. You know, 43 years is a long time. I think the deciding factor was that we finished this season with a winning record. Because we were able to do that, I feel better about my decision.”
Taking over for Ashley is his son, Jonathan, who has left his mark on Myrtle’s program over the last six seasons. For the older Ashley, there is no other person he would want to see take his place in the gym that holds his nine state championship banners.
“I knew that whoever replaced me needed to have a great work ethic and be someone who will always put the players first,” he said. “Jonathan will give them that chance to succeed and do everything to prepare them.”
Ashley has had his share of ups and downs over the years, but in the end, the people he worked closely with and the kids made all the difference, and it is that group of people he is most thankful for.
“When I was hired, I was walked into the gym and told to do whatever I need to in order to be successful, ‘he said. “That’s great for me, because I was allowed to succeed or fail on my own. I’ve had such a fortunate situation with next to no interference, allowing me to do things my way. I’ve had great kids, who have worked hard over the years, so the whole picture, the kids, opposing coaches, even the referees, have made all of this great for me.”
The news of Ashley’s retirement came as a surprise to many former players. Ashley’s influence was evident both on and off the court, as he instilled values that prepared his players for whatever path they chose. For two in particular, that road led to coaching.
“I’m honestly shocked to hear about this,” Hickory Flat coach Michael Seger said. “You hear the rumor every year that he might retire, but for him to actually do it really surprised me, and it’s hard for me to believe, because he’s been on the sidelines at Ingomar my entire life. He is Ingomar basketball.”
Seger was a member of Ashley’s team from 1999-2003, winning a state championship and making an appearance in the state tournament each year. Because of the impact Ashley had on his career, Seger became a coach himself, now working with the Rebels.
“I saw the ability that one person has to make an impact on so many,” Seger said. “Growing up, our goal was to play for Coach Ashley, and he taught us about hard work, giving our best effort in every aspect of the game. I try to use that in my every day life and just work hard in everything that I do, and I try to teach my own players that same thing.”
Zach Carnell was a senior when Ingomar won its last state title in 2010. Now at Blue Mountain studying to become a coach, Carnell hopes to one day have the type of impact Ashley had on his life.
“He had a great way of pulling the best out of people. You’d start off your ninth grade year nervous and scared, and he just found a way to crush your fear and make you play your best. Not only that, but you respected him so much that you gave it your all,” Carnell said. “I just hope one day that I can be half the coach he was and my players respect me like we’ve respected him.”
Carnell shared in Seger’s shock at the announcement, and is proud to have shared in a championship with the coach.
“I figured he would coach until he died, I guess, but I’m glad to have been a part of his last one [championship]. He definitely made a mark in my life,” Carnell said. “I hope we were as big of a part in his life as he was in ours. I know I think about that championship every day, and I’ll always remember it.”
Steven Foster will graduate from Ingomar next month and was the sole senior for the Falcons last season. While he was surprised of Ashley’s retirement, he took time to reflect on what he has learned as well as offer advice to his former teammates.
“He’s had a positive influence on my game. He’s always pushed me to do my best, inspired me to try harder. I’m sad to see him retire,” Foster said. “As far as Coach Jonathan coming here, I’d tell my teammates to just respect him; give him the respect he deserves and treat him the same way they treat Coach Ashley. Just try hard and work to be successful next year.”
Jonathan takes over at Ingomar
When Jonathan Ashley graduated from Ingomar, his thoughts were not on coaching, rather on studying law. It was not until years later that he found his calling to coach, and his road began as an assistant for his father at Ingomar before going to Myrtle in 2006.
“I had a 4.0 and enjoyed that, but then I realized that I didn’t want to just do research and be in an office,” Jonathan said. “I knew getting into coaching, that I would approach it like anything else, and that’s to try and be the best at it. There’s no way to even be comparable to what daddy’s done, and I was okay with that. Given the success he’s had the last 41 years at Ingomar, no one can replace him, but they have to have a coach. I feel like I will do as good of a job as I can, and that’s all you can ask.”
Over his six year tenure with the Hawks, Jonathan guided the team to five straight state tournament appearances, four consecutive north half championships and an overall record of 139-50. Leaving the team he has had so much success with is not easy, but he hopes for nothing but the best for the program.
“It was tough leaving Ingomar six years ago, coming over here, and I was only an assistant coach then,” he explained. “You get attached to the kids, and unfortunately from their standpoint, they don’t understand all of it. It’s hard to figure out what’s best for you family.”
“I’ll always hope they’re successful. You’ll always care for them and want the best for them, regardless of whether you’re coaching them or not. It will be difficult when Myrtle and Ingomar play. I’ll be the one out there that’s coached all of them, but that’s the tough part.”
With the success his son has had over the last six years, Ashley feels the timing is perfect for him to step in, and he is now looking forward to his new role: being a fan.
“Myrtle was great for him, because he was able to start there and prove that he can be a winning coach,” Ashley said. “What he did for those kids over that five-year span has never been done at that school. He’s proven to be one of the best young coaches in the area. In the end, his first love is Ingomar, and he will bleed red, white and blue.”
We’ll find out how well I handle being a fan now. I’m sure I’ll be out there, criticizing the coaches and acting crazy, like I’m sure people have done to me all of these years.”