Central names Whittle new boys basketball coach

Jeff Whittle

WOODSTOCK — Jeff Whittle is happy to be home again.

Whittle, a 1999 Strasburg High School graduate, was named the Central head boys basketball coach on Thursday at the Shenandoah County School Board meeting.

“I’m glad to be back,” Whittle said in an interview Monday afternoon. “I was mainly looking to get back to be closer to family and friends.”

Whittle spent the last eight years as the head boys basketball coach at First Baptist Church School, a private school in Charleston, South Carolina. He was also the athletic director there.

Whittle’s father, Mike Whittle Sr., died earlier this year from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Jeff Whittle said that once his father became ill he wanted to move back to the area to be near his mom, Debbie, and friends and family, and when the Central job became open he knew it was a good opportunity for him.

Whittle played basketball at Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina. He had an internship in the sports information department at Presbyterian, and then decided that he wanted to get into coaching.

Whittle went to graduate school at The Citadel. He then became an assistant coach at a private school, Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, South Carolina, before taking the job at First Baptist. In his first four years at First Baptist the team won four consecutive South Carolina Independent Schools Association 2-A state titles.

“I got them at the right time,” Whittle said. “I had some athletic guards that could really shoot and put the ball on the floor and attack the rim. I had a little bit of size the first couple years too.”

Whittle said he met with Central’s players Thursday and introduced himself. He said they will be having an open gym today for the players who aren’t playing a fall sport. Whittle said he won’t know what type of offense or defense they will want to run until he sees and learns more about his players.

He said that learning how to adjust from year-to-year is one thing that he learned how to do at First Baptist.

“I’ve had teams in the past at First Baptist where we had some athletic teams, where we could press and get up and down the floor and do some things,” Whittle said. “But I’ve also had teams that I had to slow the game down and maybe play some zone instead of man.”

Whittle was a standout player at Strasburg, leading the Rams to the Group A state semifinals in his junior and senior seasons. In his senior season, both Strasburg and Central made it to the state semifinals.

One of the players on Central’s squad that year was Ryan Rutz, who is now Central’s JV boys basketball coach. Whittle said the two have a good relationship and he’s looking forward to working with him and varsity assistant coach Jeff Walters.

Central athletic director Kenny Rinker said that he believes the three of them will get along great.

“I think the three of them will work as a cohesive unit, and I think our basketball program — the cupboard’s not bare,” Rinker said. “We have a pretty decent JV team last year that came on pretty strong at the end. We’ve got some good young players and we got some veteran players returning, they’re just not seniors. We’re real happy. We’re excited about the season.”

Whittle said that he’s sure that some of his friends will joke with him about coaching at Central, after having played for Strasburg, but he said he’s very happy to be back in the area coaching.

Central finished with a 15-9 record and advanced to the Region 2A East tournament last year. It was the Falcons’ first winning season in five years.

Whittle replaces Brandon Shields, who was charged in June with failure to report child abuse or neglect in connection with a juvenile sex case. Shields resigned from the basketball position in June.

Whittle played under former longtime Strasburg boys basketball coach Millson French and he will emphasize defense like French did, but he loves offense as well.

Whittle said that he remembers when Central’s program was strong year after year under former longtime coach Jerry Walters, and said he would like to get the program back to what it was when he played at Strasburg.

“I definitely would like to get it to that level again and maintain it,” Whittle said.

Rinker said that he feels Central has picked up a great coach for the boys basketball program, the school and the community.

Rinker said that four people who had an influence on Whittle were former Strasburg principal John Hodson, French, former Strasburg football coach Glenn Proctor and Strasburg baseball coach Jeff Smoot.

“When you put those four individuals there in the same sentence you’re talking about an all-star group of people,” Rinker said. “They were there for the kids. They wanted to instill in the kids the right things to do. From just what little bit I’ve been around Jeff so far and talking to him that’s what he’s all about. Putting the kids out there, teaching them the right things to do, and not just on the basketball court but in life in general.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com