Southern Oregon has been home to many prominent wrestling duals over the years, mostly thanks to the history of programs like Crater, Eagle Point...
CENTRAL POINT — In a sense, David Heard has returned home.
Home, that is, to a gymnasium, and specifically to the one at Crater High.
Heard, who had a remarkable eight-year run as the Comets' girls basketball coach that ended more than a decade ago, has been rehired in that capacity and as the school's athletic director.
"Boy, it's exciting to be back in the gym," said Heard, 46. "For me, it's kind of in my blood. I just feel like that's where I should be."
Heard takes over coaching duties from J.T. Thomas, whose contract was not renewed after seven years leading the program, and on the administrative front will replace Jeff Johnson. Johnson resigned as athletic director after seven years.
Heard is the second new basketball coach at Crater. Former Phoenix coach Glenn Johannes was recently hired to take over the boys position.
Heard will bring back former Comets star Amy Denson as one of his assistant coaches. Bill Lacey, a longtime assistant at the school, will also be back.
When he resigned in 2002 to spend more time with his family, Heard left a historic legacy. No southern Oregon school had been as dominant in girls hoops as the Comets, who claimed six Southern Oregon Conference championships and thrice finished second in the state.
After taking over the program for Don Molloy in 1994-95, Heard's first team went 5-17.
Then began an unmatched run for the former Ashland High all-conference player and Southern Oregon University player.
In his final seven seasons, Heard's record was 154-32 overall and 94-10 in the SOC. The Comets were Class 4A state runners-up in 1998, 2000 and '01.
Heard coached one more season for Crater, in 2005-06, on an interim basis, going 17-8 and 9-5 in the SOC.
His combined record for nine seasons was 176-57 and, in conference play, 106-28.
Since then, he's climbed the ladder at Scenic Middle School and coached his daughters, Monica and Mallory, in the Comets' youth programs and AAU ball.
"That kind of filled my coaching needs," said Heard.
Both girls will be on his team next season as will a cousin, Becca. Monica and Becca will be seniors and Mallory will be a freshman.
Heard is finishing up his 20th year at Scenic, where he started out as a teacher, then was athletic director, dean of students, vice principal and, for the past two years, principal.
He hadn't given much thought to returning to the sidelines, he said, because his Scenic duties kept him plenty busy.
"It would have been too big, too much," said Heard, "and the district isn't really interested in having principals become coaches."
But when the two openings melded, it was an opportunity not to be dismissed.
In a bit of symmetry, Heard assumes control of a program coming off its first losing season since his debut in 1994-95.
Crater was 7-17 overall and 1-11 in the Southern Oregon Hybrid last year.
The Comets will be a young, small team that can run and "do some of the things I like to do, so it's a nice fit for me," said Heard.
Of the 14 players on the 2012-13 roster, 10 were sophomores and freshmen. Only two were seniors.
Heard won't have the kind of talent he enjoyed in 2002, when post Denson was state player of the year and helped form a dynamic tandem with guard Sarah Pool. The two finished 1-2 in school history in scoring and went on to NCAA Division I basketball, Denson at Arizona State and Pool at California.
The team Heard inherits reminds him of his first Crater team.
"We were just kind of rebuilding because we were so young," he said. "We're putting in a new system, so it feels like that, but the difference now is I know these kids. I've been around them a long time."
He got to know them as teammates of his youngest daughter, and he helped Thomas with summer coaching duties and kept the scorebook for the varsity last season.
Whether Heard can replicate the winning ways of yesteryear remains to be seen.
"My goal is for the kids to have a positive experience all the way through the program and be happy about playing for Crater," he said. "Part of feeling good is being successful, and in sports, being successful means winning."
He wants to succeed on and off the court. As athletic director, Heard envisions a professional community in which all of the school's coaches will feed off of and serve as resources for one another regarding coaching strategy, motivational tools, fundraising, dealing with kids, etc.
"We share a lot of kids, and it's important that we do what we can to make every program better," he said.
Heard will lean on Johnson as he makes the transition, he added.
Johnson stepped down in order to return to the classroom. He was hailed for his work in a demanding position.
"I think the athletic director position is the most time consuming, grueling job we have in the district," said Mike Meunier, the director of human resources for the Central Point School District.
In a release, retiring Superintendent Randy Gravon said, in part, "Jeff Johnson will be very difficult to replace as AD. He bleeds Comet orange and black."
Thomas, who isn't a teacher, said he understands and supports the district's desire to have employees in coaching positions when viable.
He was the head coach at North Medford High before coming to Crater as an assistant coach for several years. With the Comets, he had an overall record of 101-68 and was 50-32 in conference.
His best season was 2009-10, when Crater went 23-8 and 9-5 in the Class 5A Southern Sky Conference. The Comets placed third in the state tournament, beating rival Ashland in their final contest.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email email@example.com