Gary Etheredge describes himself as “the kind of guy that likes to get involved.”
So in 1996 when then-San Luis Obispo High athletic director Thom Dimmitt asked the then-boys basketball coach to supervise the coach-less girls tennis team, Etheredge took the offer a step further.
He took over as the Tigers’ head coach; a position he held for 17 years before announcing Friday he is stepping down from the post.
“I recognized the fact that there was a need in that program because it seemed like they were getting a different coach every couple years,” recalled Etheredge, who led the San Luis Obispo girls tennis team to six league titles and a CIF-Southern Section finals appearance in 2009. “I have a lot of enthusiasm for the girls tennis team still. I will be supporting those young ladies always.”
Etheredge retired from teaching in 2011 after 25 years at San Luis Obispo, but continued to coach both girls tennis and boys golf.
“At that particular time, I was just getting into retirement, and I didn’t want to disrupt the routine,” said Etheredge, who coached boys basketball from 1989 to 2000 and boys golf since 2005. “I wanted to kind of feel my way.”
However, no longer teaching made it hard to justify the daily commute from Etheredge’s Santa Maria home.
“Travel really was the biggest factor,” he said. “When I was working at the school, that made it a lot easier. It’s something I’ve been thinking of for the past couple years.”
Etheredge compiled an overall record of 283-66, including a stretch from 2004 to 2010 in which the Tigers went undefeated in PAC 7 play.
San Luis Obispo made it to the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section championships twice, including a run to the finals in 2009, when they fell 12-6 to undefeated San Marino.
“All of the young ladies that I had an opportunity to work with were great people … and when they went out to compete, they did their best,” Etheredge said. “That’s about all I could really ask for.
“Of course, I did have some great talent as well.”
The Tigers’ unbeaten streak in league came to an end Sept. 29, 2010, at the hands of Arroyo Grande. Since then, the Eagles have taken over as the premier team in the PAC 7, having not lost in league the past four years and winning a CIF-Southern Section title this past fall.
Arroyo Grande coach Lori Hollister said Etheredge’s presence in the friendly rivalry will be missed.
“His dedication to the girls, the families and the program at San Luis Obispo is evident through the success and passion he displays,” said Hollister, who has coached the Eagles for seven years. “He’s very passionate, and would always bring that high energy to our matches.
“I’ve learned a lot from coach Etheredge.”
For now, Etheredge will keep coaching the San Luis Obispo boys golf team as he continues easing into complete retirement.
“I am not leaving the cupboard bare, that’s for sure,” he said of the tennis team, which advanced to the second round of last year’s section tournament. “We’ve got some outstanding players with a lot of experience coming back.”
And what if he gets asked to “supervise” the team again?
“That’ll depend on how many teams I have at that point,” Etheredge said with a laugh. “Like I mentioned, I’m the kind of person that likes to get involved.”
Anybody interested in the girls tennis coaching vacancy at San Luis Obispo can contact athletic director Jeff Brandow at email@example.com.