On Tuesday evening, former Jeffersonville basketball star and girls’ basketball coach Matt Pait was named the to one of the most prestigious jobs in Jeffersonville — the head coach of the Jeff Red Devils’ boys’ basketball team.
Two days later, Pait sat down with sports editor Greg Mengelt to discuss his new job and the future of the Red Devil program for the News and Tribune’s “On the Spot” series. This is Part 1 of that conversation.
QUESTION: You’ve had about two days now to think about it now. What’s the emotion of taking a job that’s not just your ‘dream job’ for your but also one of the most prestigious high school coaching jobs in Indiana — or even in the country — at such a young age?
PAIT: “Just really excited. Now I’m just getting down to organizing and saying, ‘Hey, this is what we need to do’ and getting to work. Working on contacting the players and putting together a staff and all those things you have to do in order to have a successful season. But still, just really excited about having that opportunity.”
Q: Any concern about players who helped Jeffersonville have back-to-back successful seasons not returning for whatever reason?
PAIT: “Not really concern. I know there are a couple of players out there who have other sports that they play also. I can’t fault them if that’s what they want to concentrate on, but I’m going to do everything I can to get our best basketball players on the floor and get everybody out so we can field the best team possible.”
Q: Of course, it’s a dream job. But, as I’m sure you’re aware, dream jobs can become nightmares. Do you worry about what happens if you start 0-3 your first year or if your teams fall below expectations early? The history of the program and the job [predecessor] Chad Gilbert did leaves you with high expectations from the start.
PAIT: “I don’t look at living up to anyone’s expectations but our own and the team’s goals. I don’t know if you can match Chad’s record the past two years. He just did a tremendous job. They had a lot of success. We’ve got to do what we have to do this year and next year and the following year with what we have and set our goals ever year. We’re going to strive to win state championships every year, but we’ll work with the talent we have. If we can reach our potential each year — whatever that may be — and strive for conference championships and sectional championship and regional championships ... as long as we’re getting better every day, we can be happy with what we’re doing.”
Q: I’m sure you’ve been hearing what everybody’s been hearing. Not everyone is happy with the decision of making you the next Jeff basketball coach. Is “getting better every day” going to be good enough for those people?
PAIT: “I’m not really concerned about those distractions. I know when we lose, everybody’s going to have a better way of coaching the team. That comes with the job. That doesn’t bother me. We had a trying year last year with the girls. A lot of people talked then, too. I’m going to do what I’m going to do what’s best for the program in the future. The program is bigger than me or any of the players. It’s bigger than any individual. It’s been here over 100 years and it will continue to be here long after we’re done. I think our job is to do the best that we can do the best we can and win as many games as we can and do what we feel is best for the program as a whole.”
Q: Obviously, there are people out there saying you’re too young, not enough head coaching experience, won seven games with the girls. We’re Jeff, we should bring in the best coach that we can possibly get. What’s your response to the people who feel that way?
PAIT: “I am young, as far as being a head coach for a top boys’ program in the state. All I have to say is I’m going to work harder than any other head coach out there. I have more pride in the program than any other coach they could have hired. The pride and passion I have for Jeffersonville basketball, that goes a long way. You could have brought in guys with more success and more wins, more varsity head coaching experience. But they might not care about Jeffersonville basketball and leaving the program better than they found it than I would.”
Q: Do you think that was the determining factor, that you’re a Jeff guy who, if successful, could be around for a long time?
PAIT: “I think that had something to do with it. There’s plenty of people out there with more wins and more experience than me. I think being a Jeff person and having a relationship with the current players and having been there before, having been a coach under Chad [two years ago] ... all that probably came into consideration. I don’t know that for sure, but I would assume it did.”
Q: Obviously, you lost an All-State player in Darryl Baker, but with guys like Drew Ellis, Myles Harvey and Keenan Williams back, there’s a ton of talent left. Is there pressure right away to win?
PAIT: “There’s always pressure to win at Jeffersonville. It doesn’t matter what kind of talent we have, we expect to win every game we play.”
Q: But isn’t there a little more pressure ...
PAIT: “Coming off a regional championship and losing Darryl and Jacquari [Chandler] and Kortrell [White] and Devin Shackleford ... Darryl’s a big loss, but Devin, Jacquari and Kortrell are, too. We have to find a new way to win. We do have a lot of talent and we’re excited for the potential we have for this team. If everybody comes out and plays, I think we can compete for a sectional and regional again.”