This spring, Greg Garber will be back in black (and red, for that matter) and standing on a softball diamond.
His old job at St. Albans — currently filled by Christian Watts — wasn’t available, but the same position at Nitro was open a year after athletic director Garrett Burdette held down the position.
So Garber, with 23 years of coaching experience — including a 2010 Class AAA state championship with the Red Dragons, was officially named the softball coach of rival Nitro this week after guiding practices during the three-week practice period this summer as well.
Garber stepped down before the 2014 season after coaching St. Albans for 21 seasons (he coached at George Washington for two years prior) due in part to atrial fibrillation, which is a heart rhythm disturbance. Surgery has helped the condition and the desire to coach is still there. Despite not getting full clearance from his wife, Garber said now and Nitro are the right time and place to return.
“I did have to buy a new living room suite and I had to go to Hobby Lobby for the first time, so I made some sacrifices,” Garber said about convincing his wife to allow him to coach one more time.
Maybe as difficult as the job at home is the job that awaits him in Nitro as he takes over a program that has combined to win seven games over the past two seasons under two different coaches. Continuity isn’t something that has been easy to establish with the Wildcats. Though Garber has turned programs around before, specifically at St. Albans, he said in the three weeks he was able to meet with his team, it was simply about clearing the slate and starting from the beginning.
“It’s about changing the mentality over there,” Garber said. “The whole kit and caboodle. We have to fix the work ethic, the commitment to the program — all that. We’re trying to go back from square one to be honest — fundamentals and expectations.
“We have a thing we call ‘P.A.C.’, and that’s having a passion for what you’re doing, a winning attitude and a commitment to getting better.”
Garber has started from the ground floor, welcoming in nine freshmen during the three-week period and establishing relationships with players in the feeder system at Andrew Jackson as well. He is also a coach of the West Virginia Firestix, a youth travel squad in the area, allowing him to make connections with younger players. That is especially crucial at a place like Nitro, where several talented players have come through briefly and left either before or during their high school years to play somewhere else. “Instead of talking about the kids they lose ... I think we won’t lose them and maybe even we’ll gain some,” Garber said.
The numbers surrounding Garber certainly speak for themselves with more than 500 wins and only one losing season in his 21 years with the Red Dragons.
“I still have the desire to coach and help kids achieve their full potential,” Garber said.
Returners Hailey Harr (.361, eight doubles, three triples), Logan Withrow (.426), Carly Miller (two home runs) and Lydia Sweat will try to build on solid seasons from a year ago and help lead a large crop of youngsters in Garber’s first year. Torri Porterfield — a rising senior that has been a key part of Nitro’s soccer and basketball programs — also is expected to come out, though she is currently rehabbing from a knee injury in basketball season. Alivia Nunley, an incoming freshman, has also transferred in from St. Albans to help solidify things.
So far the reception for Garber in the place of his one-time rival has been great and optimism is running strong in Nitro.
“St. Albans wasn’t open, that was my first choice,” Garber said. “I had been offered several times over the last few years.
“But [Nitro principal Jason Redman and Burdette] said, ‘Tell us what you need, we want you to come here.’ They acted like I was a top priority and that made me feel good.”