John Carrick’s 799-win career as a girls basketball coach actually started with a loss.
The year was 1975 — the first season girls high school basketball in Georgia switched from six on six to five on five — and Carrick had recently been appointed as head girls basketball coach for Putnam County High.
Carrick’s Lady War Eagles were trailing by more than 20 points late in a game against Greene County, and the teams were just coming out of a timeout. Putnam County guard Trudy Thomas was ready to inbound the ball, but the Greene County players were still on their sideline collecting the game plan from their coach.
“The horn blows, and the official kind of hollers at the other coach,” Carrick said. “‘Come on coach, let’s play.’”
After two more warning whistles, the referee handed the ball to Thomas and signaled for play to continue. With no opposing players on the court, Thomas passed the ball in to fellow guard Jule Foley, who got it to a post player named Mary standing right around the free throw line.
“She turns around to go to the basket and dribbles it one time off her foot,” Carrick said. “The ball goes out of bounds and the other team is still on the bench over there.”
After the game, Carrick followed his team angrily into the locker room, prepared to voice his displeasure in the way they had played. But before he had a chance, a girl in the back of the room piped up in her teammate’s defense.
“Coach, you can’t be that mad at us,” he remembers her saying. “We don’t ever practice without defense.”
“I kind of said to myself right then and there, ‘Hey, this is what I want to do,’” Carrick said.
Though Carrick will be going for win No. 800 this Friday evening when Lakeview Academy hosts Franklin County, he had never planned on becoming a girls basketball coach. He was originally hired at Putnam County to coach the baseball team, and had dreams of coaching the same sport at the college level.
But when the school’s girls basketball coach retired a year later, he was offered the job.
“I just kind of sort of laughed and said ‘Thank you, but no,’” Carrick said. “I have no desire whatsoever to coach girls.”
He didn’t change his answer until he learned that the job offered $800 more in supplement — just enough extra to coax him into the unfamiliar field. And even though the Lady War Eagles finished that first year with a record of 3-21, Carrick knew he had found the career he was meant to pursue.
Over the next seven seasons, he raised the Putnam County girls basketball team from the ground up, coaching them up from 3-21 his first year to undefeated state champions nearly a decade later. He was offered a job coaching the Georgia College and State women’s team in Milledgeville, and couldn’t resist moving up to the
Carrick spent 27 years in Milledgeville, leading the Lady Bobcats to 20 winning seasons and six appearances in the NCAA tournament. He spent his last eight seasons at Georgia College and State in a long distance relationship with his now wife, who lived in Gainesville. As his college coaching career wound down, he spent a couple years prolonging the end — telling her on a couple of occasions that he would make the move next year.
“She listened to it for the first three years and then she said ‘No. We’re doing it now or we ain’t doing it at all,’” he said. “So I went ahead and retired, got married, came up here.”
Carrick believed his coaching career was over then, but girls high school basketball wasn’t quite done with him. Shortly after he arrived in Gainesville, his stepson alerted him to an opening at Lakeview Academy, so Carrick got Lakeview athletic director Deuce Roark on the phone to ask some questions about it.
“He said ‘Well, we’re looking at somebody older, probably retired. Won’t teach and just coach,’” Carrick said. “I thought this is what I’m supposed to do. That’s kind of how I felt then, this is what I’m supposed to do.”
Carrick is now in his 10th season coaching the Lady Lions, and the success he’s found throughout his career has followed him to Gainesville. Lakeview Academy has had a winning record in each of the last nine years, eclipsing 20 wins on four occasions.
With win No. 800 on the immediate horizon, Carrick joked that he’s more focused on making it to Christmas than thinking about hitting 1,000 victories, but added that he plans on staying at Lakeview Academy for as long as his health allows.
His career has spanned 45 years and been filled with accomplishments and milestones rarely reached by any coaches regardless of sport. He’s been honored to finish that career out with the Lady Lions.
“Lakeview is very, very unique just in the family atmosphere from parents, kids, all that kind of stuff, teachers, faculty,” Carrick said. “It’s something you’ve kind of got to be there to feel it, but you do feel it.”