Some stunning news came out of Eastern Alamance High School on the afternoon of Thursday, March 27, as Director of Athletics John Kirby released a statement indicating that Eagles head men’s basketball coach Jay McPherson was stepping down after ten seasons at the helm.
McPherson put together a remarkable run during his decade in charge of the EAHS program, as his Eagles teams won Mid-State Conference titles in seven of his ten seasons.
McPherson won a school record 214 games over that period, and he was named Mid-State Coach of the Year five times - most recently in 2018-19, when he led EAHS to an undefeated 24-0 run through the regular season, and a trip to the East Regional finals of the NCHSAA 3A state playoffs. The 18-19 Eagles put together a 29-2 record - same as the 2015-16 squad that also reached the Regional finals.
A 25-year teacher in the Alamance-Burlington School System, McPherson, affectionately known as “Coach Mac” by his students, players, and peers, will remain at Eastern High School as a Social Studies instructor. Along with being named Mid-State Conference Coach of the Year five times, Coach Mac was recognized as Regional Coach of the Year three times, and was also named District Coach of the Year once.
“We are so thankful for the time that Coach McPherson has spent as the head coach of both the JV and Varsity Boys Basketball teams here at EAHS,” read a statement on the Eastern Alamance High School Facebook page. “He is a class act that has taught and coached many great students athletes at Eastern. Thank you Coach McPherson for your time and devotion to the Eastern Alamance High School basketball program."
McPherson served as an assistant coach for the Eagles for ten seasons before getting a chance to take the helm in 2010-2011. Coach Mac cut his teeth for a decade serving as Eastern’s Junior Varsity basketball coach, posting a record of 142-58. He also served briefly as the school’s head coach in Track and Field.
It didn’t take long for McPherson to hit his stride once he took the reins of the varsity squad. After putting together a promising 20-8 record in his second season of 2011-2012, McPherson led the Eagles to a 25-6 mark in 2012-13, making the first of four runs to the East Regional round. In 2013, Eastern ran into future UNC and NBA player Isaiah Hicks and his Oxford Webb team in the state quarterfinals, and their state title hopes were derailed.
More success followed for Coach Mac. A 23-5 season and another Mid-State title in 2013-14. Another 23-5 season the following year in which the Eagles returned to the Regionals.
And then there was 2015-16 - a season that came ever so close to bringing home the first state championship to Mebane since the legendary 1991 team that went to Chapel Hill and brought home the NCHSAA title.
Eastern lost just once during the regular season in 15-16 — a frustrating home loss in late January of that winter to longtime local rival Cummings. But the Eagles not only went undefeated in Mid-State Conference play that winter, but they did something that very few teams manage to ever accomplish - they went unbeaten on the road.
EAHS carried a 29-1 record all the way to the East Regional finals that spring, only to get knocked out for the second straight year by a tough Fayetteville Sanford team. Three years later, Eastern would again take a 29-1 record to the East Regional finals, but again came up short - this time against inter-county rival Williams.
Eastern Alamance was the team to beat in the Mid-State Conference throughout Coach Mac’s run as head coach of the Eagles. Any conceivable path to the league title ran through Mebane for the overwhelming majority of his tenure.
The 2019-20 season was undoubtedly the most difficult for Coach Mac, as he led a group of young Eagles to a 10-15 record this past winter. Nothing seemed to go right for EAHS from the outset. The team was hampered at the start of the season as numerous key players, including Caleb Hester, Elijah Burnette, Darius Kane, and Alik Lewis, were still playing football as the Eagles made their run on the gridiron to the NCHSAA 3A state semfinals.
After getting off to an 0-7 start, EAHS was much more respectable down the stretch, going 10-8 after January 7. Eastern was competitive in virtually every game, but lost numerous heartbreakers and close contests to league rivals, who took advantage of their rare opportunity to get some revenge on the perennial class of the Mid-State Conference.
In January, the Eagles defeated league foe Person in Mebane for Coach Mac’s 211th career win, which surpassed EAHS legend and the school gymnasium’s namesake - Tal Jobe - for first on the school’s all-time wins list. He was recognized prior to the team’s next home game for his decade of excellence, in which the Eagles averaged over 21 victories a season.
The Eagles figure to be more battle-tested in 2020-21, with veterans such as Kane, Lewis, Evan Mann, Kasen McCawley, La’Lil Settle, Lebron Reels, Tyler Payne, Cam Gerlach, Decimus Lewis, and Josh Randolph all returning. Eastern has lost only three seniors - Hester, Burnette, and Nick Blackwell - which will make life a little bit easier for McPherson’s replacement.