ERIC GABRIEL – HIGH POINT UNIVERSITY MEN’S BASKETBALL ASSISTANT COACH – EPISODE 579

Eric Gabriel

Website – https://highpointpanthers.com/sports/mens-basketball

Email – egabriel@highpoint.edu

Twitter – @coachgabriel

Eric Gabriel is a Men’s Basketball Assistant Coach at High Point University under Head Coach Tubby Smith.  Eric was hired as the first-ever Director of Video Operations in 2013 and was promoted to assistant coach in 2015.

Gabriel came to the High Point from Shepherd University, where he served as an assistant coach. Eric also previously worked at Mount Olive College and Methodist University.

He began his coaching career with stops at Alexander High School and Fort Loramie High School in Ohio from 2004-08. Gabriel served as an assistant at Alexander under his father – who holds the all-time wins record at the school.  He then became head coach at Loramie and won 15 games in his second season after inheriting a five-win team upon his appointment in 2006.

Gabriel was a four-year member of the West Liberty University men’s basketball team in West Liberty, W.Va., from 2000-04. He was a three-year starter at point guard and was co-captain his senior season.

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Take some notes as you listen to this episode with Eric Gabriel, Men’s Basketball Assistant Coach at High Point University.

What We Discuss with Eric Gabriel

  • Following his Dad, a junior high coach, to the gym
  • College shoe deals and how it works at High Point
  • The special feeling you get from a new pair of shoes
  • Choosing basketball over the potential to play Big Ten Football
  • His decision to attend West Liberty University to play basketaball
  • “You are your best at what you do all the time. And if you’re on your phone all the time, that’s what you’re best at.”
  • “Wherever you put your time is what you’re going to be good at.”
  • Getting shots up today is easy
  • How the coaches at High Point have helped players handle NIL
  • Licensing issues with school names and logos
  • His original career path as an elementary school teacher and coach
  • Coaching at his alma mater as an assistant to his Dad who was now the head varsity coach
  • Getting his first high school head coaching opportunity at Fort Loramie High School in Ohio
  • What he said in the interview that made him think he wouldn’t get the job at Fort Loramie
  • How the realtionships between coaches and players are different in high school vs college
  • Feeling like he wanted to put more time into coaching and less time into teaching which led him to explore college coaching
  • “My Dad does stuff off the court that makes his players know how much he loves coaching them
  • Sending emails to every men’s and women’s coach in the country looking for a coaching position
  • His first job at Methodist University that payed $0 and how he and his wife survived with no salary
  • You have to love basketball first
  • The pros and cons of the D1 off-season
  • Getting an opportunity to $5000 at Mount Olive with Joey Higginbotham
  • Running an efficient and competitive practice that is intense but fun
  • Working for Justin Namolik at Shepherd University
  • Getting the video coordinator job at High Point
  • His months long “interview” with Tubby Smith after the previous staff was let go
  • Learning to be yourself as a coach
  • Adapting to your teams strengths and weaknesses
  • “We don’t like to teach what we don’t know”
  • Transparency and honesty goes a long way
  • The tension at the college level when it comes to job security
  • “Put yourself around great people and be connected with great people.”

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THANKS, ERIC GABRIEL

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TRANSCRIPT FOR ERIC GABRIEL – HIGH POINT UNIVERSITY MEN’S BASKETBALL ASSISTANT COACH – EPISODE 579

[00:00:00] Mike Klinzing: Hello, and welcome to the Hoop Heads Podcast. It’s Mike Klinzing here without my co-host Jason Sunkle this morning, but I am pleased to be joined by Eric Gabriel. Men’s basketball assistant coach at High Point University in High Point, North Carolina, Eric. Welcome to the Hoop Heads Pod.

[00:00:14] Eric Gabriel: Hey Mike. Thanks for having me, man.  Appreciate it.

[00:00:16] Mike Klinzing: Absolutely excited to be able to have you on and dig into all the interesting things that you have in your basketball career and background. Let’s start by going back in time to when you were a kid. Tell us a little bit about your first experiences with the game. I know your dad was a high school coach.

I’m sure that had a big influence on you. So let’s talk a little bit about those first experiences.

[00:00:34] Eric Gabriel: Yeah, man, as long as I could, for as long as I can remember, I had a basketball in my hands when I was young my dad was a junior high coach, going to practice with him and running up and down the court.

When the guys are doing sprints or handling the ball when they’re doing it. No mimicking the way they shoot it. And just, just kind of learned by being in the gym with him on the side every day I came in, I just kind of fell in love with it. I wanted to be there at every practice I want to do every time he had to go do something with the basketball team or the guys I was tagging along and I don’t have my, my only brother’s 10 years younger than me.

So I was kind of an only child for those first years and just gave me a chance to be around him all the time. Cause they couldn’t, they couldn’t say, go play with your brother or sister.

[00:01:20] Mike Klinzing: Go play with your basketball. Right.

[00:01:23] Eric Gabriel: Exactly. And that was fine with me. And that’s how I learned that was kinda my introduction and it just stemmed from there.

I played all sports, but basketball was always kind of the foundation for me and what I learned everything from that was the time I spent with my dad and how he taught me anything. It was through the game of basketball.

[00:01:42] Mike Klinzing: Was there a player or. You remember that maybe you had a connection with when you were too young at that point?

Just what do you remember about some of your, your dad’s players from that.

[00:01:54] Eric Gabriel: No. I remember a few that stick out in my mind that always there’s always guys on teams that take extra time with the kids and the gym. And I remember those guys pretty well. I remember giving some of them free throw tips.

Like I knew what I was talking about eight years old, seven years old, whatever it was. But I also remember those guys taking time before, after practice to hang out with me, or I’ll never forget the day back then everybody wore matching shoes. So the day we got the team was black and gold we got black and gold and McGregor’s shoes and I gotta.

Like I’ll never forget that. And that was kinda my introduction to be a part of a team, which is the better part about basketball is being part of a small team and then the basketball part kind of followed. But yeah, there’s those guys that some of them are still back in my hometown today. And if I ever get a chance to see them it’s always great to talk to them about that.

[00:02:48] Mike Klinzing: Absolutely. I think that the, the impact that a high school, varsity basketball player can have on those young kids. I always talk to high school coaches about, I think that that’s one of the things that if you’re going to have a successful high school program, you’ve got to have that connection between the young kids.

And of course you had even more access being coach’s son, but even for just a normal elementary school age basketball player, to be able to have. Some connections to those varsity kids and just have something that they can look up to look forward, to want to eventually be a part of. I think that’s so critical to developing a long-term successful high school basketball program.

Obviously you could catch lightning in a bottle for a year or two and have a talented group come through. But I think if you want to have a good program, you really ought to make that connection between the youth and, and the, and the varsity program. I think it just helps out tremendously. The other thing that you mentioned that I think is interesting is just talking about the shoes and just how different the shoe game is today versus how different the shoe game was back in those years, where I always think about.

Same thing. You just mentioned that every year. Okay. What’s the team shoe going to be and where are we going to? Where are we going to get it? And how are we going to make sure that it matches, can we find my other school was green? So how are you going to find shoes that have green smooshes or whatever it is.

And now it’s just like, I mean, you want you look out on a basketball court and it’s just a, it’s just a free for all. I’m curious, how do you guys handle the shoes? Like at high point, what do you got? How does that, how does that work with your team? I’m just curious how you guys set that up. This is a question I’ve never really talked to anybody about.

So I’m kind of curious how that works in terms of how your kids get to pick out their shoes and how that works.

[00:04:21] Eric Gabriel: Yeah. It’s really evolved. And over the past few years, it’s evolved even more. And we signed a big Adidas deal about five years ago here at high point which changed our shoe game a little bit from being Nike Jordan before that.

And we went to Adidas. What we started as was a test school and they would literally send the shoes that no one had ever seen. And we had to like sign waivers that no one can look at them or supposed to pictures or all this stuff, and the guys would wear them and then they would send videos back to Adidas and what they liked.

And didn’t like, and then we got first access to those shoes which was really cool. So our guys kind of had a little bit of a test run on if they want Dames or Hardin’s or whatever the case was. And then they would pick out that shoe and then we could get different colors and have them send them the way we do it now.

The Adidas has kind of went away from that, at least at our level. And we, we typically order a full run of their main shoes. So a whole old size run for our entire team will get a pair of hardens, a pair of Dames, maybe a pair of Trey Young’s next year. And then after that first payer, which is usually in the summer fall, they kind of give us an idea of what they like don’t like, and then we just order them that shoe maybe in different colors.

Okay. Gotcha. Yeah. But the number of shoes these guys go through is increasing. Because of the amount of time they put in them, right? Absolutely. And between individual workouts and open gym and working out on their own and practice and games and know it goes on and on, you try to get them a shoe. They like, and stick it, stick it keep them in that shoe, which isn’t always easy.

[00:05:56] Mike Klinzing: It’s amazing. How important shoes are? I remember as a kid, just how critical it was like, oh, I gotta have, I gotta have these. I still remember my first pair of, well, my first pair of basketball shoes was a, a non-brand that my dad and I bought a pair of was probably when I was in like third or fourth grade.

And I remember we got them out of the bin at the store called Fisher’s big wheel at the end of the aisle, they were called, they were called super Bebe’s and they were totally generic. Totally, totally generic. But that was my first pair. And I remember wearing those for probably a year. And then at some point, the doctor Jay conver.

We’re the first like real leather basketball shoe. I had, I remember when I got those, I was on top of the world and you could not, I could not have been any more excited than I was for that particular pair of shoes. And even today, now I’m teaching elementary ed and I laugh because I was a classroom teacher for the first 19 or so years of my career.

And when I got the opportunity to go and teach phys ed, I reverted back to being like a 15 year old kid. So I dress like a 15 year old. I got more pairs of sneakers in my closet now than I’ve ever had. Cause I got a little bit more money than I had when I was 18 or 19. So it’s fun. It’s fun. I go out and pick some stuff out and whatever.

So it’s fun. People always laugh. Cause they’re like got another new pair of shoes. I’m like, look out the body dress clothes. So this is where this is where I’m spending my money. So yeah. The whole shoe world has definitely, it has definitely changed in a lot of ways from when, from when I was playing.

Certainly. And it’s a lot probably a lot better for the kids now that they can kind of assert their own personality. It’s a little way for them to kind of show their show a different side of them and just the guys who were wearing the pink shoes or the neon yellow or whatever, and all these things.

It’s just, it’s always looks so different when you see them out on the floor like that.

[00:07:44] Eric Gabriel: Yeah. We actually it’s crazy. You talk about the, like the feeling you get to having a new pair of shoes on, and our guys probably don’t even realize this, but sometimes if they’re having a slump, like I’ll slip a pair of new shoes in their locker.

Nice. You know, cause then they’d come and practice the next day. Or if they, the next time they wear them, you can just tell them. Hey, man. I got some new shoes on.

[00:08:04] Mike Klinzing: No doubt, exactly. Looking down at your feet. I remember that feeling looking down at your feet and just being like, just keep checking, like yeah, those are still cool.

I still really like those. Yeah.

[00:08:13] Eric Gabriel: They feel better. You feel just like getting a haircut? Yeah,

[00:08:17] Mike Klinzing: absolutely. Yeah. There’s no question about that. That’s very, that’s very interesting. All right. So let’s go back to you playing days. When does it kick in for you that you want to play college basketball? Is it something that you’ve been thinking about just because you’ve been around the game.

When did you maybe start to take the game at a serious level? You thought I got to really start putting in some work and, and really try to improve you remember there was, was there a moment or was it something that was kind of always there just because you grew up around the game?

[00:08:47] Eric Gabriel: Yeah. I always thought I was going to try to play in college.

I mean, I don’t ever remember a time not thinking that. And for me it was it was almost a little bit backwards. I’m, I’m very in the act, the academic side of now. I haven’t got my masters in coaching. Having been a teacher, but at the time it was kind of like, if I don’t get to play basketball, I don’t know if I’ll go to college and it kind of pushed me over the edge, but it was as long as I can remember, that’s what I was going to do.

And I didn’t really care where I went to college. I just wanted to play my family. I was a first generation college student, so it wasn’t like my family had any experience with colleges or how the whole thing worked. It was just, who’s going to call me and offer me a scholarship or offer me a place on their team.

That’s, that’s what I’m going to what changed for me was in high school, I became a much better football player. And I wasn’t, I didn’t put the time in the football. I put all my time in the basketball go into the gym after football practice, playing open gym, play in fall league during football season, but I was getting recruited by some big 10 schools to play football.

So. I kind of got torn a little bit there for a few months about man, what do I want to do? I love the game of basketball and know more about. But when a big 10 school calls you, you listen, right? Absolutely. And you start to think, well, man, maybe I should go do the football thing. And it just never was right for me.

I never felt right about it. And basketball, some smaller schools were calling all the time coming to watch and individual ones. There was a couple that, that I wanted to go to that I visited and they just never pulled the trigger to get me a scholarship, which was probably a good thing for me. And so I ended up at west Liberty through different connections at west Liberty university and wheeling there, which was a great decision for me and ended up being something that’s very beneficial to me to this day.

[00:10:36] Mike Klinzing: Yeah. That’s interesting passing up on the opportunity to go to a big 10 school. And especially you were probably right before the cusp of social media, where it really was taken off where people were finding out about, Hey, this and that and the offers. And I think that’s one of the things that when.

What’s really different in the last five or 10 years in terms of recruiting and kids making decisions. And just, there’s so much stuff out there on social media that everybody can see. And I mean it, that kids are posting. I got this offer, I got that. And I wonder for myself and for, for kids like you, that at that time had it been there been more social media, I don’t know, pressure, or just, it’s interesting that you were able to make what ultimately ended up being obviously the right decision for you since you’ve now put your life into the game of basketball, but I’m sure there probably would have been even more pressure on you back in that time where, Hey, I got maybe some big 10 offers in the football and now I gotta make a decision to maybe play at not that high of a level in basketball.

There’s just, there’s just so much more pressure on kids today. And there’s just so much more information out there that gives kids the opportunity, unfortunately, to compare themselves, which in a lot of ways, On realistic, what we’re seeing on social media. Isn’t always what’s real anyway, perhaps.

[00:11:59] Eric Gabriel: I mean, I didn’t even know division two existed when I got the high school and I ended up going to play division two. I mean, I just, I literally had no idea. I thought it was, you grew up in Ohio, like we have in division 1 or 3 right? Yeah.

[00:12:11] Mike Klinzing: There’s no division two. I mean, division two, you wouldn’t know anything about it?

[00:12:15] Eric Gabriel: No. So it was like division three or division one. That’s all I knew. Before I visited West Liberty, that was, I had no idea. So nowadays there’s no hidden gyms anywhere you can find everybody at any point anywhere you can re I mean the last two years of anything with COVID proved, proved that, that we can recruit without even going.

Absolutely. You know, it’s just a whole different world. So you’re, you’re right. You’re exactly right. The, the social media world has changed recruiting and, and exposure in a whole different way. And the pressure on kids today. Is is immense. And I can’t imagine juggling the amount of communications. They have, the amount of messages.

They get the amount of just stuff coming at them all the time. Without any training we’ve, we’ve been through life a little bit longer than them, and we’ve got a little bit of a base to, to balance those things, but they’re getting all that stuff thrown at them from the time they got a phone which is that early age.

[00:13:09] Mike Klinzing: Right. It’s really it’s earlier. It’s earlier and earlier every year, we’re one of the holdouts, our family, my son is a sophomore and he got his first phone for Christmas this year. So we have held out. Than anybody. And of course he’s been tortured that he can’t communicate with anybody, which is probably true.

Unbeknownst to his parents. It probably actually is true. My daughter who’s a senior. She was a little bit more mature. So she got hers when she was a freshman. And then my sixth grade daughter doesn’t have one at all. So people always kind of look at our family a little bit of scans or like your kids don’t have phones.

I just, you just getting your sophomore a phone right now. But we found that it’s been, we found that’s been a good thing because to your point, the pressure and just what comes in on that thing, like, obviously there’s tremendous benefits to it, but if it’s not utilized correctly, there, you can do a lot.

You can do a lot of things that aren’t going to be good for you both as a young adult and on into your adult life, as we all know. So how do you guys handle that at high point in terms of helping your guys understand how to navigate it, how they should use it and just, I can imagine the stuff that’s coming at them all the time as division one athletes, what that looks like.

[00:14:19] Eric Gabriel: I don’t know that we have the answer. No one does I, that I know we try to use it to teach them some time management. We try to put it down on paper so they can see it and write it down. You know, the, the amount of time they use a phone or the amount of time, they’re the things that kind of break down their day and where they’re weak even and where their time’s going.

And just sit down with them individually and try to say, look, the the amount of time you’re, you’re in study hall. If you’re on your phone there, you’re on your phone here. They’re like, it just adds up and you are your best at what you do all the time. And if you’re on your phone all the time, that’s what you’re best at.

If you’re in the gym shooting, that’s what you’re best at. Like where wherever you put your time is what you’re going to be good at. So we try to break it down like that. We don’t want to take it from him. Listen, this is the world they live in, right? We want them to promote our program. We want them to promote their selves now with name, image, likeness.

We want them to use it to their advantage, but not to the point where it’s detrimental to the. Which is, it’s a hard thing to do. And some guys are really good at it and some guys are, and it’s just something we have to battle all the time. Maybe a losing battle. And maybe we’re just above a generation that, that, I don’t know, like the couple younger guys we have in our staff are probably better suited to talk to them about it.

[00:15:37] Mike Klinzing: Right. They just understand it more for sure. Yeah. I know there’s things that I’m always on. My, my daughter who’s had her phones, I dunno, for whatever, two, three years, she’s always dope. There’ll be things that I’ll do. She’d be like, damn. Like you moron, what are you doing? You know, like, what are you doing?

What are you doing? You don’t know how to do that. I’m like, I don’t know. I go, I can get to it through this. She’s like, no, just do it this way. I’m like, okay. So, so, so yeah, there’s definitely, there’s Def definitely a generation gap there. I feel like I’m pretty functional technology-wise, but there’s some things that you watch a kid do and they just do it so intuitively and we just don’t have that same capability of being able to figure that out, you know?

[00:16:14] Eric Gabriel: And, and even outside of the phone just yesterday made me think about, we were in the gym with our guys and there was probably five or six of them in there shooting and they’re there on the gun shooting, it’s pass it to them. They’re doing these drills and moving around and they’re getting up 200 shots and like no time.

Right. And I say to one of them, I said, man, I wish they had this one. I played. And he was, he looked at me like I had four heads. He was like, what do you mean they didn’t have this? When you played us the gun? Like, they didn’t have the gun. When I played, we had to have somebody rebound for us. So we had to chase our own ball.

I mean, just the fact that he couldn’t like fathom that idea that he couldn’t come into the gym and shoot without the gun. I was like, yeah. And then I just never had it. Right. He just couldn’t understand that. So even the pressure, like that’s just another piece of technology and the way the game has changed, life has changed that we put pressure on them to come in the gym and shoot because it’s so easy.

Right. Absolutely. You know, I don’t remember having that pressure put on me because the coach couldn’t say, Hey man, we got a gun. You can come in here and get 200 shots up in 30 minutes. Like they couldn’t say that. We’re nowadays we do. I mean, I’m guilty of it telling a guy he needs to get in the gym and get some shots up.

Cause it’s easy.

[00:17:25] Mike Klinzing: Yeah. What’s funny too is, and I didn’t think about it in these terms, but it makes sense. Like I’ll work with kids who are fifth, sixth, seventh grade, and you’ll say flip the ball out to yourself and catch them all and shoot it. And they don’t know how to do that. Like they can’t, they can’t accurately flip the ball out, go get it and take a shot because they never have to do that.

Because if they really are a kid that’s getting up shots, chances are they have access to a facility, whether it’s through their high school or maybe a private facility and they got a shooter or a lot of times too, now you have a parent that’s going to be there. That’s going to rebound for them. Dad wants them to be successful.

And so dads they’re rebounding. It’s just, it’s a totally different era. Then before when you, when we didn’t have all, when we didn’t have all the tech and we’ve been through this a million times on the podcast, but there’s just, again, there’s good things about it and there’s negative things about it. And I think you have to, as a coach, as a player, you have to just continue to evolve and kind of meet the game where it is as it continues to progress and try to take advantage of the things that are positive and try to minimize maybe the negatives that come along with it.

Speaking of which, where you guys add in terms of NIL, how has that gone? Has it been what you expected? Has there been surprises? Just maybe give us a little description about how that’s gone for you guys as a coaching staff, handling that and helping your guys to navigate.

[00:18:51] Eric Gabriel: Well they kind of limit what you can do with coaches.

So we’ve had to see what the school will allow or licensing with our logos and that kind of thing what they’re allowed to do. So we’ve really just tried to educate our players. We’ve had multiple meetings with our compliance coordinator and other people in our athletic department, just to give them an idea of what they can do, how they should attack it, how much time they should put into it.

But the main thing they gotta do is report everything back to us. We make sure they’re not taking advantage of or doing something and not getting the right compensation. So we’ve had, I mean, over half, our team is making money off one way or another, whether it’s with local businesses or stuff, they’ve started on their.

COVID hampered a little bit of it. Cause I think some of them want to do camps back home, which is going to be a big thing for them. Absolutely. But eventually they’ll get to it. So obviously big schools, big markets have a much bigger opportunity to make money, but I think our guys have done a pretty good job of putting themselves out there within the, within the rules and good for them.

We’ve told them this is a great. And we want them to make as much money as they can without putting an hamper on their, their academic or their basketball success, because without their success academically, and with basketball, they’re not going to make any money for sure. So they got to make sure those things stay first and then really go out there and attack it.

And some of the guys are really good at it and put, put some time into it and they’ve benefited and other guys don’t think it’s worth it. You know, even some of our better players, it’s not really worth it to me. I’d rather spend my time doing other stuff, which is fine too. But what we want them to know is we support them in that we think it’s a really, really good thing for college athletics.

One way or the other, whichever way they choose.

[00:20:31] Mike Klinzing: Anything that was surprising about it, that maybe you guys didn’t anticipate as you sort of stepped into these uncharted waters.

[00:20:38] Eric Gabriel: The licensing thing was a little surprise for us cause we noticed some other schools kids were using their logos and their their name with a logo of their school, cell and things.

And we were immediately told your high point. We couldn’t do that because of our licensing agreement that who does our logo. So that was a little bit of a surprise because to me, that’s, doesn’t make an even playing field for athletes and that can affect eventually if it can affect a kid picking a school over another school.

And I don’t like that part of it if we’re going to do it, I think it should be the only thing that shouldn’t be a level playing field is the market of the school. Like we have now power fives are obviously more marketable than the lower divisions. That’s the only thing that really surprised me.

Cause we thought that no one could use their school. Cause it was there. It was supposed to be the kid’s name, image and likeness. But some schools are allowing them to use the logo, which to me makes it the school’s name, image and likeness as well. For sure. I wish the NCA could find a way to get with the licensing agreements and make it equal one way or the other.

I don’t really care which way they go. I just want it to be even.

[00:21:44] Mike Klinzing: Yeah, it seems like that would be something that eventually, hopefully they can get ironed out because like you said, if you can associate yourself with that university, it’s just one more piece of branding that could be valuable for whatever company is looking at.

Pay the athlete to do whatever it is that they’re looking to do. Or if the athletes is trying to market themselves, whether it’s just doing a camp and you can not only attach your own name to it, but also attach your university name to it, then I would say there’d certainly be value in that without question.

So, yeah, it would seem like eventually they’d want to get that to be an even playing field. Let’s work backwards. Let’s go back to you as a college student, you talked a little bit about how, when you went to school, you were just like, I just want to play basketball and the academic piece of it, which clearly now is really important to you.

But that time, just like most kids, the reason why you choose a school is you’re trying to find the right basketball fit the right coaching staff, that kind of thing. So once you get there is your thought always that you want it to go into coaching. That’s why you go into elementary education or just, what was your thought process as you got to school and then kind of, as you evolved as a student and as an athlete over the course of those four years,

[00:22:55] Eric Gabriel: Yeah, there was never a question that I wanted to be a teacher and coach basketball.

My dad had kind of told me, he wished he would have done that because he coached high school basketball without a college degree. And he was lucky enough in Ohio, you could do that. And he had a job that was flexible that allowed him to do that, but he kind of instilled in me that, Hey, if you want to coach, you need to be a teacher.

So I, I had no question. I wanted to be an elementary teacher for the simple fact that I didn’t want to, I didn’t want to teach my players. I didn’t want to have him in the classroom. I wanted to be. At the school or close to it, but I didn’t want to have to teach him. I didn’t. I thought that was too too much.

So I went into the elementary side, which I loved, loved that at the time and teaching young kids. So I never changed. I stuck with elementary ed and knew I wanted to coach high school basketball forever. That was what I was going to do. Right. Like I had it figured out at 18 years old, what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and quickly learned that that was not the case, but I did go through it and I taught elementary school for four years, right out of college.

And, and coach started coaching high school as my dad’s assistant for two years and then became a head coach for two years. So I thought I was on the path.

[00:24:03] Mike Klinzing: All right. Well, let’s talk about each of those experiences separately. Let’s start out maybe with the teaching part of it. What did you like. You’re teaching job.

What did you dislike about it? And just tell us a little bit about those experience. Cause obviously we have a lot of coaches out that are coaching high school that are teaching at all different levels. So just tell us a little bit about your experience as a teacher.

[00:24:25] Eric Gabriel: Yeah. So I taught third grade, regular education.

My first two years at the elementary school I went to for the elementary principal. That was my principal. So that was a little unique. The school had just opened a brand new K-12 school, Alexander and down in Albany, Ohio outside of Athens. My dad was the varsity coach now. He wasn’t uniquely enough, I talk about my dad, but he was never my head coach, junior high, junior, varsity, varsity.

He was on the bench for every game as an assistant, but he was never the head coach. He took over as head coach after I graduated high school, he became the head coach a couple years later. So when I came back, he’s the head coach and needed. And his assistant, I think knew that he, that I wanted to coach.

So he kind of stepped aside, thought it was the right time. Let me become the assistant for my dad, which which is two years, I’ll always cherish and, and learned more. You can’t read you can’t, you can’t replace that experience. You get a coach with your dad, the sport that you grew up with them teaching you everything, you know about life.

Got you a college degree, the best four years of your life, getting to play college basketball, which was your dream. And now you get to come back and do it with him. I mean, it can’t like it doesn’t get much better at your Alma mater. So I couldn’t like make that up. I couldn’t write the book any better.

Right? Like I got to come back. So then my second year with my first year, he teaches me a lot and lets me have some rains to things that I probably shouldn’t 21 years old. And then the second year he really let, let me kind of take a lot over. And he was still the head coach by all means, but he gave me a big voice and we were really good with a not very talented team and set some school records and won the first conference championship there in years and did all these things.

So of course at 23 now I think I, I can rule the world and I know everything there is to know about basketball, right? So there’s 40 job openings for head coaches in the state of Ohio that year. And I applied for every single one and I got two interviews and, and my dad came back and said, I’ll just step aside and be your assistant and you take over.

And I’d always said, and I still stick to this, that at least for now, I don’t want to be the head coach when I played, I love to be in the assistant, but it was, it was hard. I was coaching the kids of my former coaches. I was, I was teaching kids of people that I had known for a long time, because where I went to school was a very small community and everybody knows everybody.

And, and I got some comments and some phone calls that I didn’t take very well at 21, 22 years old that about my dad being the head coach and about me getting special treatment and you know, all the bad stories, there was so much good, but those bad ones stick with you and it’s your community for sure.

So I needed to step away. I needed to get away from there and do my own thing and kind of make my own path away from my dad. And so I explained that to him and I got two interviews. I ended up getting one of the jobs, which was at Fort Laramie high school, small division four school, north of Dayton which was maybe the best job of the 40 that I applied for, to be honest with you.

And I couldn’t believe that Mr. Ludlow, the, the superintendent there gave me the opportunity at 23. And the story I always tell about that is I interviewed once it went great they had a special education job open. So I was going to have to go back to school a little bit to get that certification, which I did while I was teaching there.

But in my second interview, I go in the last part of it. There’s like eight people sitting in a room. It’s the 80, it’s the principals, it’s the superintendent. It’s friends of the basketball team, which I don’t even know what that means, but…

[00:28:20] Mike Klinzing: That is never a fun situation.

[00:28:22] Eric Gabriel: Exactly. I mean, this is a school that graduates 30 kids a year, and there’s eight people here in this interview and they start asking, they just start firing questions.

And one of the last ones was, why should we hire you? You know, and me being 23 and completely arrogant thought. And my answer was somewhere along these lines of, because you won’t find anybody better. Like that was literally, as soon as I said it, I was like, you are an idiot. What are you thinking? Because that’s not me by any, any means like, and I walked out, my wife was in the car cause she was on the second interview with me.

Cause we went to dinner and did the whole community thing and she just had to wait for that last. Yeah. When I went and I sat down in the car and she’s had to go, and I said, well, we were, we were engaged at the time. I said, well, we’re not moving because I just lost the job.

And the next day he called and offered me the job. I don’t know why he got through that bad, bad answer. But so I went there and taught special ed and coached. And I think to answer one of your original questions about how the teaching and coach in high school, what I love about high school that you don’t get to me at the college level.

And I’ve been at all of them the intimacy with the kids of how close you are with them. I think you get closer to kids at the high school level than you do at the college level, because this becomes such a business. It’s the part, I don’t know. And I think a lot of people overlook that as far as college basketball goes, you think you get more time with the players and your relationships are closer, which they probably are because you’re getting that 18 to 22 year old time and people’s lives where we’re all really molded.

Right. But those high school relationships with those kids, I’m still close with the guys I coached at Fort Laramie. I mean, I talked to him one yesterday. I love those guys, man. And they, they made me so much better of a coach because they challenged me, but they, they, they listened to me as a 23 year old kid.

They trusted me for whatever reason and bought into what I was trying to do. And I loved those two years. The teaching part was what eventually made me want to kind of move on because I felt, I felt really squeezed in, I put so much time into coaching. I was afraid I was lacking as a teacher, which was not fair to the third grade kids that I had.

And I didn’t like that feeling. It was a feeling of, of, of just being torn in two directions that you love both of them, but one of them had to give. Right. And I, I couldn’t give up my time with my team to put more into teaching, which was the right answer. I should have definitely stepped away from basketball a little bit and taught more.

So the answer for me was to move. As hard as it was, cause my team was really, really good. And I thought we had a chance to win a state championship that the next two years. But selfishly, I had to move on if that makes sense. No, it makes total sense.

[00:31:19] Mike Klinzing: I think that there’s a lot of people that I think have been in that position when they’re trying to make a decision between which direction do they go.

And clearly if you’re going to be a high school coach and a teacher, a good portion of your day is going to be spent on non-basketball related activities that not, that’s not to say that as a college assistant coach, that you are not performing non-basketball activities as I’m sure you well know, but you are, you are, you are basketball, at least, at least, at least it is tangentially related to the basketball program that you are currently working for as opposed to when you’re teaching.

And clearly if you’re team. Third grade social studies that is not in any way, shape or form related to what you’re doing with your basketball team. So I clearly understand that. I think that that’s something that a lot of people wrestle with making that decision, whether they make it initially right out of the gate coming out of coming out of college and deciding, Hey, do I want to pursue you know, do I want to try to pursue, pursue you know, a, whatever, a, a graduate assistant position, or I want to try to be a video coordinator or whatever it is to get my start, or do I want to go and try to coach into at the, at the high school level?

And so you see guys that again, I think you find the niche that makes the most sense for you. And it sounds like you’ve been able to do that. And when you think back on your first experience with your dad and then getting that initial head coaching position, what’s something that when you think about the influence that your dad has had on you as a coach, What’s something that’s a part of your coaching personality or style that you feel like you, whether it’s subconsciously or consciously that you took from, or that you learned from your dad during the time that you watched him growing up and then during your time that you worked directly with him as an assistant?

[00:33:07] Eric Gabriel: Well, the first thing I knew and really this was watching him when I was a varsity player in high school, I think is when it clicked with me, cause was like I said, he wasn’t the head coach on the varsity team, but he was on the bench because he was the head coach of the JV team. So I got to watch him and what I, what, and even to this day, he got out of it for a few years and now he’s back into it at a different school.

And to this day, whether they’re good or bad, doesn’t matter, his kids always seemed to love to play for him. And I’ve said this on a previously, in an interview that my dad was ahead of his time. He’s 61 now. And then coaching forever, but he was ahead of his time in the sense that he w he was the guy that kids always wanted to play for.

And it didn’t matter really what their minutes were like. It used to be old-school commuting, I’m an old school coach. You think of a coach that says you do, as I say, not as I do. And, and you’re going to listen. And if I say jump, you say how high the whole just commands. You know, I don’t ask anything.

I tell you what to do. He was, he was so ahead of that. And kids just kind of gravitated toward play and hard for him because they love to play for him. So I got to see that as a varsity player while I was coaching JV. And at that point, I, I knew I was going to be a coach. So I was really evaluating my coach, him and other coaches, college coach.

I was really like into the coaching at this point What I didn’t realize was the reason they love to play for him so much. I saw this after he became the varsity head coach and I got to see him do it a couple of years before. And even as his assistant, it’s because of the stuff he did outside of practice and outside of games, the money raised the, the camps.

He took him to the meals he had at our house that my mom would cook the things he did in the community that they saw that helped their basketball. They knew that, that he loved coaching them. There was no question in a kid’s mind. And so when he got them on the court or in practice, they would do anything to play for him.

And kids played for him that didn’t even play basketball. They’d come out for the team. And he’s doing it again, where he’s at now. You know, he does stuff off the court that makes them know how much he loves coaching them and being their coach which is why that part of, of him being a coach outweighs any of the X’s nose and all that.

So I’ve tried to keep that in the back of my mind, definitely as a head coach at the high school level, it was very, very important. It gets harder at this level because like I said, it’s, it becomes such a business that you got to kind of take a step back every once in a while and remind yourself.

But, but that, I took that from him more than anything, I took that.

[00:35:48] Mike Klinzing: Yeah. That makes a ton of sense. I think that it’s certainly an underrated piece, especially when you talk about the high school level, getting involved in the community and letting kids know that you’re there for them off the floor, whether that’s, I think sometimes teachers, if you’re, especially if you’re a teacher in the building where you coach, I think that’s a huge advantage.

When you can see those kids and get touches on them every single day when you’re seeing them in the hallway. And it’s just easier to communicate within the less, I think that there are lots of different ways that you mentioned that your dad thinks that he did and things that other coaches do outside of what happens on the practice floor.

What happens on Tuesday and Friday night, those are the things that really have an impact and let kids know that you care about them. And as we all know in the coaching profession, if kids know that you care about them and they know you’re coming from a place where you have their best interests at heart, then you end up with a situation where those kids are going to run through a brick wall for you.

And it sounds like that’s what your dad was able to do. And sounds like that’s what you try to do when you’re going through and doing the things that you do on a daily basis. Tell me a little bit about the transition from. High school coaching then to college coaching. So you make the decision teaching is something that maybe is taken away from the amount of time that I want to spend in basketball.

I don’t feel like I can give it my full, my full effort. So where do you go? Who do you turn to? What’s the first call you make when you decide that you want to try to transition and go to.

[00:37:13] Eric Gabriel: Well, again, at this point I’m 25 or something like that. And I, I don’t know anything about college coaching. My college coach was fired shortly after I was done.

And I couldn’t get ahold of him, so I didn’t have much help there. Luckily, my assistant took over coach Crutchfield, who everybody knows now who was at west Liberty and did so many great things is now at Nova. I was able to call him, he helped me get the Fort Laramie job actually. And then I was able to talk to him.

So my, my high school coach that I was so close to coach Reese had an illness and had to get out of coaching at the time. So he was kind of out of the game and needed to focus on his health. And my dad was just a high school coach. I mean, he didn’t have college ties, so I really didn’t know what to do.

I’m on the. You know, searching every job I can find and applying and getting no, look, I don’t even get a phone call. Don’t get emails back. I wish I would have kept track of how many I applied for every men’s women’s division 1, 2, 3, and AI job you could possibly find without one phone call ever.

But I kept doing it. I kept doing it and to kind of rewind a little bit after I decided I thought college was the thing, which was the hardest decision I’ve made in my coaching career. And it’s not close because I hated leaving those high school kids that I still love today, but my wife we got married.

Why, why was that for Lauren? Me? She kind of said we’re young and able to do this and if you want to do it, let’s do it now. And she kind of pushed me a little bit to, to take the leap. So I finally get a phone call back from a guy at Methodist university who was the assistant there, it’s a division three school here in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

He called me back and said, Hey, we’d love to bring you down for an interview. We get an assistant job open and we talk, we do a phone interview. And at the end of the phone interview, he says, before you drive down here to do the in person interview, there’s something I gotta tell you.

And I said, okay. And he said, this job, this job pays $0.

[00:39:09] Mike Klinzing: Yeah, I do. I do. That was covering Eric. I, I could sense that one. I didn’t know if it was going to be zero or it was going to be like 500 bucks, but I knew it was gonna be.

[00:39:17] Eric Gabriel: So I said, okay. I said, yeah, I’ll do it. And I got off the phone and I told my wife, I said, I’m going to go to this interview.

I can’t take this job, but I’m going to go just for the experience, because I need to have a college interview like experience. So she said, okay, so we jumped in the car, we drive halfway one night, stop drive the rest of the way the next day do the interview goes great. We get back in the car. And I basically did.

We both look at each other kind of like, let’s do it. You know, it was just, it was a good situation. It’s the only call I was going to get back. Now that I had been fighting to try to get something and I thought, this is, this is just what I gotta do. And you know what? We’re young. We don’t have kids. We still don’t.

But at the time we didn’t know if we wanted to have kids. So we were like, if we’re going to do it, we got to do it. We got a little bit in the savings account. Let’s just sell everything we own and go. And that’s exactly what. We sold everything. We had one little truck for some stuff. Don’t, tell anybody, but we lied to an apartment complex and we got into we fibbed a little bit on the employment and they let us in.

And so we lived in an apartment with no furniture in just south of Raleigh. And I drove an hour one way every day to Methodist for $0 and made it work. And it was, it was. I mean, I just coach in college basketball and had no never dreamed. I’d be there at a D three school with coach Smith there, David Smith itself forever be grateful for.

So that’s really how it went down. And we literally lived in this apartment with no furniture and sat on the floor for the first year and a half of our marriage.

[00:40:59] Mike Klinzing: And you’re still, and you’re still married. So you did something, right? You, you did something right along the way there.

[00:41:04] Eric Gabriel: Well, there was nowhere to go, but up.

So like I set the standard really, really low and it’s worked in my benefit.  

[00:41:11] Mike Klinzing: There you go. Now you’re looking like a star, right? Yeah. Right. Great. Oh, I like it. I like it. So what obviously you say, I love it. What was it specifically? Was it just the fact that you could focus on the basketball and that teaching piece had been taken out.

I was just, what, what about it made you immediately feel like, Hey, this is, this was the right move.

[00:41:34] Eric Gabriel: It’s kind of what you said earlier that everything I did in a day was connected to the basketball program. Every time I worked with the kid, academically, every time I made a phone call, every it was old to do with the basketball program.

And I didn’t feel like I had to slight anything else in my day to do that. Which was so fulfilling. It was hard. But it was really, really fulfilling for me and how I wanted to spend my time. And I still got to work with young girls, which was also important to me, given me, is why we switched. I started coaching basketball.

I always say that we all coach because we love the sport first. If anybody says that’s not first, then I don’t know what they’re doing because yes, we all want to help young people, but you have to love the sport too. Yup. I love the sport more than anything. And then I love helping young people succeed or kind of developed whether it was through high school or college.

So, but I was getting to do that all day which was awesome. And then it’s the traveling with the team all the time. And the amount of time you gotta be with the team was fun for me. And at the division three level, it’s not that far removed from the high school level because of the way the rules are set up.

So there was still that intimacy with the players that kind of, to me, the higher, the level you go goes away a little bit. It’s just kind of the way it’s built which I’ve, I’ve said publicly before that that’s one of the things I don’t like about the division one level. It’s you got to really create that in the higher I’ve gone.

That’s one thing I miss about high school division three division two is some of that. So

[00:43:01] Mike Klinzing: let’s, this is a kind of a skip ahead question, but it also, I think, relates to your experiences at the lower levels. How do you look. The off season work and the off season access that you have to your players at the division one level, versus obviously you’re at the division three level and you have no access to your players.

And it seems like, and I’m just speaking for myself. I haven’t coached at division one level. Haven’t really been around it on a day to day basis since I was a player. But I know when I was playing and our season ended, like I got handed like a three-page ditto of like, here’s your summer workouts we’ll see you back here and we’ll see you back here next August.

And then I went and worked on my game and worked on my body and did all those kinds of things, which obviously you guys now players are on campus. What, 48 weeks out of the year. And you’ve got the access to off season workouts and all those things, which obviously. Can play tremendous benefit to helping your players to develop.

And yet I know speaking for myself as a player, at least that I needed some time to hear a different voice and to be separated for the coaching staff, from the coaching staff to be able to recharge. And I know I’ve talked to a couple of division, one head coaches that have said that they sort of defer those summer workouts to their staff.

For that very reason that man, these guys hear me all season and now they got to hear me all summer. And then conversely, at the division three level where you have no access. I think most of the division three coaches that we’ve talked to would like to have at least the ability to have some access to their players.

So I’m just curious, kind of what your thoughts are in terms of is what’s the, what’s the pluses and minuses of sort of the way the division one system is set up for the off season right now in your mind.

[00:44:55] Eric Gabriel:  Yeah. So the, the yum. Yeah, you’re right. You do have them nearly year round now, especially with the eight weeks in the off season of summer work.

And then if you do a foreign tour, like we did this year, that’s. 15 days with them. So it’s, it’s really year round. Especially every fourth year when you do that foreign tour, that the positive is, is, is you have an influence on the guys year round for your program. You know, you got gotta where they’re at, you know what they’re eating when they’re working out what they’re focused on the downside is, is exactly what you said.

It’s, it’s almost too much all the time and they need a break. And I do think division, one’s kind of, it’s at a crossroads right now where what we’re trying to figure out the balance, because I think there’s some pull to go back to pull it back a little bit. Cause it might be too much. Listen, we’ve all been, we’ve all been 18 to 20 years old and 22 years old, we need a break like that’s between academics and basketball.

On top of all the pressure we talked about earlier on coming at you, like let these kids get away and be kids sometimes cause even as a division two player and I had my whole summer, I felt like when I graduated college that I wasn’t a real college student, like I never got experienced that, that just kinda like being a college student or being in that transition of life between my career and high school, which not everybody gets, but I had that opportunity and I felt like I blinked and it was over.

So I do think those that these kids need it and they, and we all hate listen, we all recharge and come back better when we take a step back when we need it. We’re not necessarily giving these kids the opportunity to do that. I don’t think at the. Full level we should be. So there, there are positives and negatives.

I don’t know which I don’t know the answer. I’m not a scientist or I don’t know what’s best. And every kid is different for that matter. Some kids want to be here and that’s fine. You know, as long as they have the opportunity, some kids don’t need to be here and they might be better for them.  

[00:46:55] Mike Klinzing: It’s a challenge.  And I think it’s hard as a coach to advocate for, Hey, we want less contact with our players is obviously everybody wants to have the opportunity to help the team improve. And as you said, to be able to have an influence, and that’s really what it’s all about is using the game of basketball to have an influence on somebody’s life and help them to improve.

And obviously you want to win some games and be successful along the way, but it’s just, I look at it and it feels like that there’s probably a happy medium somewhere in between that it could eventually settle, but as we know where NCAA division one basketball is right now at this time, I mean, I think there’s, there’s so many different things that have to be figured out.

We talked already about NIL you’ve got the transfer portal, you’ve got the off season. You just have, you have the whole thing where, who knows what even the NCAA looks like in five or 10 years could be totally different than you have the power five conferences versus the lower levels of division one.

And it’s just, I think there’s a lot of things that over the next five to 10 years, the landscape is going to continue to evolve and change. You got the NBA, the NBA with the, the G league and guys going overseas and whether or not they’re going to rescind the one and done. And there’s just, there’s a, so many things that are going on that I think college basketball is going to look really, really different at some point going forward.

So it’ll be interesting to see where it goes. Let’s go back to you at Methodist after you get done there for. Making your huge contract, your huge salary. You probably look around and say, well, I don’t know if I could match the salary somewhere else, but I’m sure you were anxious to maybe at least aren’t a dollar.

So how do you end up getting the opportunity?

[00:48:35] Eric Gabriel: Yeah. So at the end of the season at Methodist like you said, division three, you can’t do much in the off season. So I, I got my substitute license and started substitute teaching down here in North Carolina, but I also was still recruiting every chance I could.

So I go recruit as many division three, you can kind of go wherever you want, whatever you want. So I was doing that. At the, in the meantime, my wife got a job at St. Mary’s school, which is an all girls boarding school in Raleigh. And they offered us a place to live on campus for free. So that saved our life.

We were able to move out of the apartment move into free housing wash, which was part of her job. Part of her contract. I had to drive a little bit further, but that was fine because it was free. And I’m recruiting. And I sit down beside a guy named Joey Higginbotham who’s the head coach at mountain still is.

And we start talking and I tell him about being a division two player. And he says, well, I I’m adding a second assistant. And would you be interested? And not all, it was a little bit about the same amount of drive release about an hour and 10 minutes from where we lived in Raleigh. And I said, yeah, I said, I’d love to coach division two, because that’s what I know.

That was kinda my goal, because I love division two. And he said, well, I got, I think I got $5,000. And I said, I’ll take it. I didn’t even really care what I had to do.

[00:49:59] Mike Klinzing: That’s a 5000% raise right there.

[00:50:01] Eric Gabriel: That’s exactly right. So I went down and interviewed with him shortly after that.

It went really well. And I interviewed the day I interviewed, I was going to be a second assistant to a mod door set who was the top assistant there. So I got to know him for a day which will become important as we go through this story of, of me coaching. But so Joey offered me the job and I was there for three years.

Mod didn’t end up being there. My first year, he took a job at buoy state. We ended up hiring a guy named , who is now an assistant at Florida. And we shared an office. Our chairs touched back to back and we had we had had an absolute blast coaching that year. We were top 20 in the country, went to the NCA tournament, had a couple of All-Americans just had a blast with Joey and stayed there for three years and had a lot of success.

And. Learned how to run Joey run some of the best practices in the country. If anybody’s ever driving through North Carolina and you want to get some pickles, go down to Mount Olive, get some pickles and go watch Joey Higginbotham’s team practice. And you’ll, you’ll enjoy every second of it. What makes the practice so good?

He is the, the, the way he organizes it, the beginning of his practices as bang drills, that the guy’s got to complete every day. And if they don’t meet the goals, you don’t move on. So you may not get through the bang drills. And that just means the guys weren’t ready to practice that day. And we just do them for two hours and then we leave.

Once they do get them, we move on and everything is so efficient from the water breaks. You get get a teammate’s water bottle and hand it to him, which I think is incredible down to, to the, what he demands and the way he, he gets guys from day one we all say we like guys to run from drill to drill, and then you go to our practice and nobody does.

Th those guys do it. The intensity there is in the drills, but still fun. Like sometimes we, we confuse intensity for not fun. It, he, he, he just, somehow in, in capsules, all of that, which is, is really fun to be a part of and was fun to learn. And I hope I can run a practice like that.

[00:52:03] Mike Klinzing: it’s kind of amazing.

I think just the different practices that I’ve been to over the years and different coaches that I’ve worked with there does seem to be, I don’t know if it’s a, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a knack, or it’s just a a skill that some coaches seem to seem to be able to come upon naturally that they can get guys to complete and play hard.

And yet at the same time also keep that fun aspect to it. And the guys that do it well, it seems really seamless. It seems like. Somehow that just recklessly happens. And we all know that that’s not, that’s not why it happens, but some guys just really do seem to have a knack for it. And I think it’s, it’s really fun when you get an opportunity to see those kinds of practices being run by a coach who, who gets their players to play hard, but also you can tell it, the players enjoy being at practice and that’s a difficult line to walk as you well know.

[00:52:55] Eric Gabriel: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And  he’s the best at it and he’s still there doing it. And we had a chance to play him this year. He was the first game ever in our new arena here at high point, which was really awesome for me to get, to bring him back here and talk to his team and kind of where I felt like I know I started at Methodist, but Joey really gave me the break.

And I learned a ton from him. And so during my three years there to kind of move on, is he promoted me each year. He gave me a little bit more money and I became, he only had two assistants. And I think by my third year, and I was teaching volleyball and strength training on the side. At Mount olive, I think I made $17,000.

And thought I was super rich.

[00:53:38] Mike Klinzing: Absolutely.  You start at zero and everything looks pretty good, right?

[00:53:44] Eric Gabriel: Yeah. That is, that is exactly right. That’s exactly right.

[00:53:48] Mike Klinzing: How do you get to Shepherd?

[00:53:51] Eric Gabriel: So Joey and I we talked every year about what my next step was and he had tried to, he had applied for some jobs that he thought he make it and just didn’t.

I mean, obviously I wanted to be the head coach at Mount Olive and wasn’t happening, but I still didn’t have health insurance and my wife needed health insurance and we were just getting a little, obviously probably 30 years old now at that point 31, maybe. And so I applied for some jobs and shepherd being a Mount olives conference.

I didn’t know the coach there had no I’d never met him. But he saw a west Liberty almost. Well, my resume and brought me up for an interview and offered me the job right away. And, and just the name like is, is as good a coach out there as there is in division two, cause we all know, or if you don’t division two is not fair.

Every job is so unique and the amount of scholarships you get and the budgets and how you have to recruit or not recruit. And Justin does more with less than anybody I was ever around. As far as a recruiter and the way he prepares for games and practices is second to none. I mean, he is prepared for absolutely everything.

You’re going to throw a junk defense at him. I promise you they’ve practiced it. Like it’s not, if he has a answer for everything which is probably why he went to Columbia and graduated from there. So it was awesome to learn for him from him for a year. I’m glad he gave me the opportunity and I got to take a full-time job with benefits and thought I was like a real adult.

Oh, At the time, but fast forward, we were only there for about 10 months because the name of mod door set that I mentioned earlier, that was at Mount olive. This is four years after I met him. He is now an assistant at high point university and they are creating a director of video operations job. And he called me and I think he three way called me with Joey and Joey Higginbotham and we’re on the phone, we’re talking.

And he said, Hey, if you want to get in division one, here’s your chance? What do you think? And I said, yeah, I wanted to jump at it. And then once I came and did the interview at high point and got to see the campus and the way the program was going with coach cherry, it was a no brainer. I had to do it. I knew nothing about the video side of stuff.

But coach Jerry wanted a basketball coach that would learn it versus a video guy that might not have been as much of a basketball guy. So I got really lucky that he gave me the opportunity and that was nine years ago. And here I am,

[00:56:17] Mike Klinzing: What did the learning curve look like to be in the video room?

[00:56:19] Eric Gabriel: The good thing was, is they had no video guy before me. So anything I did was they, it was all new video system, all new equipment, all new software. And I basically got to do it the way I wanted the problem was coach cherry waited to officially hire me until the first week of school. So like, they’re, they’re already here.

The guys are here where they’re going and workouts. And I had nothing. I didn’t have a laptop. I didn’t have a camera. I didn’t have any. So there was, there was a solid month in there where I really had to like grind and call every person I knew in the video world or get contacts and try to figure it out.

And I did, and with help from a lot of people at high point and a lot of coaches around the country that didn’t know me from anything. But it worked out and Coach Cherry and I formed a great relationship. And my second year he, he bumped me up to director of player development, which still was mostly all video stuff, but I got a little bit more of a responsibility.

And then after that an assistant job opened up and, and lucky for me, I’d proven myself. And he, he walked into my office and it’s a day you’ll never forget. And he said, are you ready to be an assistant? Right. Absolutely. And that was it. It was June 20th. I’ll never forget it. And he offered me an assistant job.

So I became his assistant for three years. And then I was lucky enough to stay on with Coach Smith. When Coach Cherry let go was let go mean which is a whole nother deal about being at the division one lever level and getting fired. And you got to figure out what you’re going to do next.

So I was lucky enough to be here with Tubby Smith, which is a whole, which is surreal to me to this day.

[00:57:55] Mike Klinzing: So what does that look like when your previous staff that you’re a part of gets, let go, and now you have to figure it out. And it’s not, obviously it happens sometimes that some guys end up staying and a lot of times guys end up leaving.

So what did that look like for you in order for you to be able to stay? What was the interview like? Did you interview directly with coach Smith? How did it.

[00:58:21] Eric Gabriel: Yeah. It was, it was unique, I think in the way it works a lot of times, but so Coach cherry was let go. It was a Wednesday of spring break. I got a phone call, 11 o’clock in the morning.

We had the date coach gave us the day off. I was sitting on the couch with my wife and I got a phone call from one of the other assistants. And he said I just left the DA’s office. We’re getting fired. And couldn’t really believe it. This was all shocked, everybody. We didn’t have any idea that that was a chance that that could happen.

So I drove into the eighties office cause I got a phone call from a secretary. And by the time I got there, he had met with the rest of the staff already. And I was by myself and he had kind of asked me if he said, Hey, your, this was in March. He said, your contract goes through, may, you don’t have to come in.

This is up to you. But if you would come in and you know, kind of help the guys work out, keep them on track academically. Yeah, we’d really appreciate that. Cause your contract goes through may. Well, I didn’t have anything to do besides look for another job. So I took a few days kind of gathered my thoughts, gathered a resume and got everything ready.

Cause I needed to look for another job, started making phone calls. But I also knew I wanted to help the guys that were here because it wasn’t fair to them. And so I, I started coming into work every day, the director of operations and myself, we kept coming around and everyone else kind of packed their stuff and moved on to try to get another job which was neither way was right or wrong.

You just had to choose which one you wanted and go for it. So kept coming to work. Coach Smith gets hired a few weeks later. Luckily I’d met him a few times before that, because funny enough, my. First coaching first game I ever coached as a division one assistant was against coach Smith when he was at Texas tech.

And then we got to know each other cause he was a high point alum and he would come back every once in a while. I was here for his hall of fame induction. So he vaguely knew me. So I kept coming to work. I got here before him every day. I left after him and made sure of that, that he saw me in my office and I answered any question he might’ve had about high point or the job recruiting, whatever it was.

I was going to make sure I had the answer. I had a booklet. I presented to him about the job and why I wanted to be on his staff. He never asked me for it. It was just, I told him, Hey, I want to stay on staff. Whether it’s as an assistant video guy, whatever it is, I’d love a chance to work for you. So fast forward to the April recruiting period he comes in my office the first weekend and says, Hey, Eric, I don’t think I’m going to have a job for you.

Cause he obviously had people eating. In the coaching profession, for sure that he, I mean, he’s been coaching forever. He’s got so many guys that, and I understood, I had no hard feelings about it. He said, but what I’m going to do is I want you to go recruit as a high point assistant. And hopefully you can meet some other coaches while you’re out and about, and find another job like, and let me know if I can call somebody.

So he said, go wherever you want, you just pick a tournament and go. So I went to Pittsburgh for a tournament. He ended up flying up for a few hours, spent some time with me the next weekend he comes in my office, Hey, I’m not going to have a job for you. Let’s do the same thing this weekend. So I pick Atlanta, I go down to Atlanta, he flies down and spends the day with me, flies back, watching recruits for high point, like we were actually recruiting and I was trying to find another job.

So come back the month of may kind of flies by why he’s doing he’s a new head coach at that is on the monitor. He’s got a million things going on. I’m coming in every day before am leaving. After, like I said, oh, Got to know his son Gigi. Who’s our associate head coach really well. And it was about made, I think it was May 27th.

I think it was a Tuesday and he walked in my office and or actually I was leaving. I finally had got to the point and this is good or bad. I don’t know, got to the point where I was like, I can’t stay here. It’s like eight o’clock at night. My wife’s at home. Three days from losing my contract and my everything.

And I said, I just got, I got to go home. I’m not going to get the job. And as I’m walking by, I had to walk by his office every night. If I left, if I walked out or went to the restroom or anything, I had walked by his office. So he always sold me. But this day I had my backpack because I was leaving, which I never did.

And he, he saw me and he said, Hey, come in here. And we had a great relationship. We talked every day, kind of like I was on staff, but he had, he had been consistent and completely transparent about the fact that he didn’t have a job for me. And at this point he’s hired some other people, but not an assistant.

He says, Hey, I’m going to keep you on his assistant. Just like, just rip the bandaid off. Doesn’t there’s no talk like that. You’re going to be an assistant here. I mean, if he could have saw what was going on inside my body, at that point, he would probably be like, this guy is nuts because I was like, I was crying.

I was screaming. I was jumping up and down, but I just had to keep like this stoic face of like, thank you, sir. And just know, try to work out. Which was just a wild feeling. I meet my, my wife was working that night and I immediately drove to her job and was like telling her. And and then we celebrate and had a great time and was so fortunate that he gave me that chance.

So it was a little bit unique. It wasn’t really an interview, but he was interviewing me when he came to spend time with me on the road. So I tried to tell coaches that all the time, you just never know, man, somebody. Somebody is watching you, they’re looking at Jared and he was making phone calls about me that I didn’t know.

And so I’m very fortunate and can’t believe I’m Tubby Smith assistant and got to spend last week at Kentucky to retire on his Jersey when we played against him in Rupp arena. So amazing.

[01:03:39] Mike Klinzing: Very cool. It’s so you had a, you had a six week one man sort of stealth interview, as opposed to the eight person committee that you had to sit in front of when you’re interviewing for a high school job, right?

It’s it was sort of a, sort of a much different process, but fortunately for you, it ended up in both cases that whatever, whatever you did, where you were able, you were able to sell yourself in the right way. So I think certainly there’s a good lesson out there for, for anybody who’s coaching. I think just hearing your story, you think about being willing to start and pack up and move and go somewhere and make $0.

I think that that’s something that for young coaches that want to get into college coaching, there’s so many guys that have. A similar story to what you went through in terms of you got to start at the bottom, you gotta be willing to go where the jobs are. You gotta be willing to work for little or nothing.

And then you work your way up. You work hard, you stay you stay late, you come early, you do the things that the coaches that you’re working for needed to do. You’d be there to serve them. And then if you do that, you do it well, then you get some opportunities, you build some relationships and eventually you get yourself into a position where you’re going to end up getting a good opportunity.

Like you’ve been able to, you’ve been able to get there at high point and, and take advantage of that. And then just continue to build your career and look for where you’re going to go next and what’s going to happen as you, as you move forward. And certainly I’m sure sitting there where you are today.

And you look back at your no furniture apartment, that first job at Methodist. And it probably seems not that long away, depending on how you look at it, it probably seems like it was yesterday. And then in a lot of ways probably feels it was a long time ago. So it’s a, it’s a, it’s definitely a journey that has a lot of lessons to be learned.

When you think back on the totality of your coaching career, what is something that you feel like you were really good at, right from the beginning as a coach? I know you mentioned it a couple of times when you were talking about being a high school coach and being 21 or 22 or 23 and thinking you knew it all, but there was probably some piece of it that you were pretty good at, right.

From the beginning. And then maybe what’s something that when you look back on it, you’re like, oh, I was really bad at that, but now I feel like maybe I’m not great at it, but I’ve gotten a lot better at a particular aspect of coaching. So something that you were maybe naturally good at and then something that you’ve really had to work at to improve.

[01:05:57] Eric Gabriel: Yeah. I mean, there’s a, there’s obviously a lot and I’m still improving in a tone and, and don’t know. I don’t know if I know if I’m great at anything, but what I, what I learned right away for sure is that I needed to be myself because I tried to be my dad my first year as a head coach. I tried to run the offense as he ran and I tried to run the defense as he ran which I knew everything about.

I tried to coach the way he coached. I tried to the verbiage I used, the messaging I used, how I tried to get across to players was all very similar. And I don’t think it worked. And I really reevaluated myself between those first two years and said, listen, what? Like go back to the, when I was coaching and I didn’t mention the support, but I would go back when I was in college and I would coach the high school team in the summer league.

And I was more myself then than ever, because there was no expectations. Right? It’s the summer league. I’m, I’m a college student. No one cares who I am. I’m coaching guys that I’m pretty close in age with. But it worked and we were really good in those summers. And I thought I got across to him because I was just myself.

So my second year as a head coach, I became myself which is still similar to my dad, but not the same. That was a big thing I had to learn. It’s just kind of being true to who I was, which it seems kind of generic. And when you say it, but it’s a hard thing to do because we all have favorite coaches and people we look up to and we want to be like them, but you can’t, you can’t mimic them to a T you gotta, you still gotta be your own person and put your own twist on it.

So I had to do that. And, and what I learned that second year is maybe what I was good at was the ability to, to get across a point to a player in a certain way, without. You know, whether I don’t know why or how, but just putting it in terms individually. Like I could, I could kind of read a kid.

This kid learns in a different way than this kid. And maybe that was my third grade teaching background is I’d have to get across to this kid differently than another kid. And I think I’m still decent at that. I think it’s something I do well, I’m able to take coach Smith’s message and get it across to a kid one-on-one maybe in the way he needs it.

And I try to be really good at that. And I hope that’s what I’m good at. I think it’s, if I ever get the opportunity to be a head coach at the collegiate level, I think it’s going to be something. Try to keep with me and not lose sight of things that I need to get better at is, is recognizing from there to now.

And I think I’ve gotten better as recognizing what my team needs because it’s not always what we think it is as a coach. You sometimes you need to take a step back and realize that I want my team to do this so well, but that’s not what they need to be good at this team. This team is going to be really good because they rebound will, or this team’s going to be really good because they defend it.

That’s because that’s, that’s who they are. So let me as a coach make them that versus molding them into what I want them to be. If that makes sense. I needed to recognize that they’re not every team’s going to be the same. And my, my high school coach, Jay Reese he taught. And I didn’t realize it until we talked later in life, but he was good at that.

You know, what three things is this team going to be really good at? And those three things, aren’t the same year to year. They’re going to be different next year from this year. And that’s something I’ll have, I continue to try to get better at. And I still don’t know that I’m good at it.

[01:09:21] Mike Klinzing: That’s something that you got to take your ego off the table because as a coach, oftentimes we think that that the way our system, our philosophy, what we believe in.

That obviously there are some core values that don’t change, but when you talk about trying to fit what you do to your team, that’s something that the best coaches I think do well as they’re able to adjust and look at it and say, okay, this year I have a more defensive minded team where this year we can get up and down and run and press and that kind of thing.

And then they had another year, Hey, we got, we got a lot of bigs in our team. Maybe we need to get the ball inside more, whatever it might be real either. I think good coaches do a really good job of figuring out and understanding their personnel. And it’s really hard to do. And I think a lot of coaches just as you described, sometimes struggle with that because you have like, Hey, I think I’m of the philosophy that we gotta be a great rebounding team in order to win, but maybe your team, isn’t a great rebounded team.

Maybe you just need to be a team that gets up and down and shoots three. It gets the other team to turn the ball over and that’s how you create more possessions or whatever it may be. And I think it’s just a, a really good point. I think it’s a lesson that, that all coaches can learn.

[01:10:27] Eric Gabriel: Well, what’s hard. Is it go ahead.

Well, what’s hard as a coach, just along those points is we don’t like to teach what we don’t know. Right. For sure. Like, we get scared of it. We get, we kind of take a step back or we want to say, we know it we’re in the back of our head. We know we don’t, or the players are going to recognize it. Like this guy is trying to talk about something.

He don’t really know. Well, just be clear about it. Like I remember between those two years being a head coach at Fort Loramie is we completely changed our offense. My dad’s a five-hour guy, or was it the time? And I needed to change. And I completely changed to kind of the B-line to guard hybrid offense that he ran at West Virginia.

And it took me like I had to humble myself a little bit. Like, I don’t know as much about this game as I think I do. And I’m going to tell my players and I did, and I told him, and I said, I’m going to relearn this offense because this is looking at you guys and taking a step back and the personnel we have, this is going to be the offense that makes us much better.

And we, we changed from a matchup zone demand, man defense, because my dad was a good matchup zone guy. I thought I was, but those guys, those kids didn’t fit it. And, and I had to be transparent with them about that. And, and I think. That transparency and honesty with my players went a long way.

Cause they knew what I was going through and what I was trying to learn. And it made me more comfortable in teaching it because we made some mistakes teaching it, but I listened to my players. And when they say coach is working, like maybe, maybe this part doesn’t fit or whatever. And we were able to take a step back together as a team.

And revamp it and make it work for us. And we were much better than second year. Like not even close.

[01:12:00] Mike Klinzing: That makes all the sense in the world. When you think about you can’t be an expert in everything. And so as you go through, if you’re going to try something new, obviously they’re just like, there’s a learning curve for players.

There’s a learning curve for you as a coach. And not only do you have to understand it for yourself, but you also have to understand it well enough that you can teach it and demonstrate it and get your team to be able to execute it, which oftentimes that’s two different things. Like you may be able to understand it, but then you step out on the floor and trying to explain it in such a way that is coherent for your players and they can only execute it so that old saying, right.

That you can, they, they really haven’t learned until they haven’t learned anything until you, until they’ve shown that they can do it. And exactly. And so you can, you can teach it all you want, but if they can’t demonstrate and can’t actually do it, you’re you’re kind of putting your team in a bed in a bad position.

So it’s a learning process as a coach. And I think that’s really, I think that’s really critical. I want to wrap up. I asked you one final two-part question. It’s one that oftentimes end the podcast with, and that is when you look ahead over the next year or two, what’s your biggest challenge that you see ahead of you, and what’s your biggest joy.

When you think about what you get to do everyday, getting up out of bed in the morning and you go into your office, what brings you the most joy? So your biggest challenge, your biggest joy

[01:13:14] Eric Gabriel: challenge let’s start with the challenges is high point. We, we, we don’t have a huge, we don’t have a great tradition at high point.

And because I’ve only been division one since 2002, we haven’t had, we’ve had a couple of down years. So the challenge for us is getting, getting this thing turned around under coach Smith’s vision which we’re working really hard to. And it’s a challenge super fun hard, but it’s going to be very rewarding cause we’re on the right path.

And then that the challenge in it is in this profession. You job security, everyone knows isn’t the best. So you gotta be able to get, wake up everyday and go full throttle at it. Without thinking about that. That’s a challenge for me since I’ve been, since I was on a staff that got fired, it’s a challenge every day to go to work full throttle and realize that it can be pulled away in a second.

Kind of out of the blue, which is hard because I never thought, never thought about it when I got into coaching. But that, that, that, that, that is a challenge for me personally. And a challenge for any coach, really that, whether it’s some coaches that bothers more than others. But, but that’s hard for me.

And then there’s many challenges, but that’s one that sticks out to me a lot. And I talk to people a lot. The joy I get is, is one. I have somewhat of a routine. I wake up in the morning and I make, I love coffee and I make a great pour over coffee. And so my wife for 15 to 30 minutes in the morning and get to talk with her about our day goals or whatever we might be talking about.

And I love that that it’s something that it’s taken a long time for us to get to a point in this coaching journey that we were able to, to have some time like that we’ve done a great job of spending time together and navigating this thing. But now we have some consistency in it on the days that I’m home outside of games and recruiting that to do.

And I love that every single day.

[01:15:05] Mike Klinzing: And you got a table and share or shares to sit down, got a couple

[01:15:09] Eric Gabriel:  I got a couple, so that makes coffee even more enjoyable. And then I get to come to an office where we just built $180 million arena and worked for who should a coach that should be in the hall of fame.

And Be around young people that, that I still try to stay connected with the older I get, they stay the same age. Right. So I got to try to, I love the joy of trying to keep that youthfulness in my life and stay up with them and learn from them. Because of all the technology we talked about early on in this deal, I’m trying to keep up and I really enjoy learning from them.

And then trying to give them some thoughts to mold that new technology and the new way of life based on what I’ve been able to do or learn, or see along the way. I love that part of it. Just as much as I love watching film, I mean, I, I love basketball. That’s what I said. And you got to love basketball to do this and coming in to think about practice, to get better and watch them to do Scouts.

And like, I love all of that. So there’s many joys throughout the day. For me, while there’s a ton of challenges in this job, as difficult as it can be. And the demands that takes, like, if you don’t, if you don’t really sit down and think about the joys that brings you, like, you’re asking me about which I try to do and be grateful for every day.

And as you get older, you get better at that. It’s, it’s challenging and joyful all at the same time and you have to love every minute of it.

[01:16:30] Mike Klinzing: That’s good stuff. And it makes sense. I think anybody who’s in a profession that they love feels that same way, that it wouldn’t be interesting and exciting if it wasn’t challenging.

And yet you also do sometimes get caught up in forgetting about the joys of why you do it, just because you’re in that sort of day to day hustle and bustle of what you’re trying to accomplish. So I think that was very well said. And Eric, I cannot thank you enough. Taking the time out of your schedule today to jump on and join us.

Really appreciate it. Before we get out, I want to give you a chance, share how people can find out more about you, where they can reach out to you, whether you want to share a social media, email, whatever. And then after you do that, I’ll jump back in and wrap things up.

[01:17:09] Eric Gabriel: Yeah. Yeah. Feel free to email me. My email is just Egabriel@highpoint.edu which is simple.

That’s directly to me. And then probably the easiest way is, is on Twitter at coach Gabriel. That’s really the one that I probably check the most. I have other social media, but I’m not on there much. So at coach Gabriel, I’m always willing to reply there and then we can make connections from that.

And then the last thing I’ll say before, before we get off here, Mike is the one thing I’ve been really fortunate about as I go through this story. And every time I tell it to someone and I think about it is, and I know I can get long-winded. So I’ll keep it short is the amount of people. I’ve good people I’ve had around me.

Has been second to none. And, and I hadn’t necessarily known that when I was going through this of picking and choosing who was around me. But I, now that I look back, I think I was doing a good job. One ahead. I was lucky enough to have great parents, which is we don’t always get to choose that, but I was super fortunate.

Then I was, I had great grandparents and aunts and uncles and everybody around me. Even though I said I was a first-generation college student still didn’t mean that they weren’t education wasn’t important and, and being successful in whatever I wanted to do. And they, they allowed me to kind of go my own way, as long as I was doing it the right way.

But then when I did was I had a high school coach. That was great. And then I surrounded myself with friends that were great and successful. And then I chose to work for people that were great. And some of it was luck. Some of it was choice, but if you have a choice to put yourself around great people and be connected with great people, and sometimes it takes work to get involved and get those people in your life.

Do it like, and it doesn’t matter if it’s basketball or not any, any part of life. That’s what I’m most thankful about looking back is it’s the Alan Bolan that I had as a coach and the Jay Reese’s and, and my dad and I can name names. I could go on and on and on. And Nathan Hale, who was part of my life and my mom, who’s the most influential non-basketball person that could ever be around.

And then I got coach Smith and coach Cherry and coach Joey Higginbotham. And David’s, I mean, all of these names, I’m telling you are great, great people that influenced me and Larry Ludlow at, at Fort long. I could just keep going as they pop in my head, unbelievable people that I was so lucky to kind of connect with throughout the way, not to mention the players that I’m still close with.

Like, that’s, what’s the best part about it. When you look back that’s what’s best about any of this coaching stuff we do, right? Or really any profession is those relationships. It’s kind of cliche now, but that’s. Like don’t young. People need to understand that because when we’re young, we don’t that those relationships are incredible and they’re going to benefit you for forever.

And when, when I, when I get fired again, which will probably happen, like I did the first, like those people, I hadn’t talked to coach Reese, my high school coaching years, what? Maybe not year, we hadn’t talked, but we, there was no ill will, but when I got fired, he was one of the first people I talked to and he helped me get on with coach Smith.

Like if some of the stuff he told me and some of the stuff I did was because of him like that, that stuff is you can’t put a value on it. And that’s all outside of you, my wife or your partner, whoever you have with you, that’s the closest person to help you through those moments that those, those are priceless.

[01:20:31] Mike Klinzing: Ultimately it’s a relationship business. I think that you said it very well, that you want to cultivate those relationships. When you’re young, you don’t realize the value. Of those relationships. And a lot of times, too, when you’re young, the people that you have relationships aren’t yet in a position where they may eventually be able to help you.

And as you get older, you get more and more friends, more relationships of people who have moved up, whether it’s the coaching ladder or whatever profession you may be in. And ultimately those relationships are the ones that help you. And, and if you remember that those relationships are a two-way street that not only can somebody help you, but if you’re also willing to reach your hand out and help somebody else.

That’s when you really see the magic in those relationships. And I think that’s well said, it’s a really good way for us to wrap this up. And again, Eric, I just wanted to say thanks to you for the time. Your story is one that certainly resonated with me. I think it’s somebody that, something that resonates with a lot of coaches who have gone through similar experiences, or maybe are hoping to go through a similar experience to what you’ve been able to do.

And I wish you nothing, but the best moving forward and to everyone out there. Thanks for listening. And we will catch you on our next episode.  Thanks!

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