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Vu takes over as St. Mary’s head coach

It isn’t often such circumstances arise but St. Mary’s High filled two coaching vacancies with one move this week in hiring Tam Vu as its new boys basketball head coach.

Vu takes over immediately for Greg Conway, who guided the Crusaders to the Class 3A state championship a month ago in a one-season gig designed to provide recovery time from heart surgery for previous head coach Eric Guyer.

“Ultimately when it came down to it, Eric met with his doctors and he knows his body and it’s just not worth the risk coming back at this point,” said St. Mary’s athletic director Adam Peterson on Thursday. “We’re so very appreciative of all Eric has done over the years and he is going to continue to contribute to our school in many different ways still to come.”

Guyer will be moving into a new role at the school this summer as chairman of the St. Mary’s Board of Trustees.

As for Conway, who had served as Guyer’s top assistant until stepping up this season, there never was a thought of him continuing on as head coach moving forward and he felt as if it was best for Vu to be able to begin his program without having the distraction of the previous regime’s coach nearby.

“I loved doing it but with my job as a pediatrician, it was going to be too hard to continue,” said Conway, who was recently named the 3A coach of the year. “I’m going to miss it a lot but it would put a weird pressure on a new coach with me right there. Besides, we had such a magical year, it’s hard to top that and a great time for me to move on.”

As with Guyer, Peterson couldn’t praise Conway enough for his willingness to step in during the boys basketball program’s time of need.

“What an amazing job Greg did,” said the AD. “What more can you say about the job he did last year? It was incredible.”

Finding coaches interested in moving forward with the St. Mary’s program was not a challenge, according to Peterson, and he believes the right fit was found in Vu.

“It’s funny, when you win a state championship you become a hot prospect for people who want to come in and coach your program,” Peterson said with a chuckle. “But when it came down to searching for a permanent replacement, Tam was at the top of my list. He’s a guy I have full confidence in taking the reins of this program.”

Vu moved to the area last year with his wife and five daughters from Olathe, Kansas. His 18-year-old son is attending the University of Kansas. The position at St. Mary’s will be his first as a high school head coach, but Vu has prior assistant experience in Lincoln, Nebraska as well as his role as an AAU coach along the Kansas and Missouri borders in Kansas City.

“I feel blessed to have the opportunity, especially with the success that we’ve had at St. Mary’s, to join such a successful program,” said Vu, 45. “It’s a program that’s dedicated and committed to winning both on the court and off the court. To me, it’s the whole package and I hope to continue to build that legacy.”

Upon his arrival here, Vu immersed himself in the basketball culture as a referee for the Rogue Valley Basketball Officials Association, and also served as the eighth-grade AAU boys basketball coach for St. Mary’s middle school team. Both provided him an opportunity to get acclimated to basketball in the area and allowed Peterson an extended chance to get insight on Vu’s coaching style.

“What coach Vu brings is a work ethic I think we really value here at St. Mary’s,” said Peterson. “He has the kind of character, commitment to family and ability to communicate with his players that we were looking for as someone who could also be there for the long haul.”

Vu said he had the opportunity to get to know Guyer, whose son played on his AAU team, and felt a kinship in how each viewed their role as a coach. He was also overwhelmed by the support he received over the past year from various parents and those within the St. Mary’s athletic department.

As for his on-court expectations, Vu said he only hopes to build on the foundation left by Guyer and Conway. The senior-dominated Crusaders went 23-6 this past season and won their second straight Southern Cascade League regular-season title to advance to the state playoffs for the first time since 2010.

“I consider myself a very high-energy guy and I think our student-athletes are going to practice that way and we’re going to play that way, with a high energy,” said Vu. “We’re going to let our athletes work hard and demonstrate what they can do in an up-tempo system.”

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry