When I reached Lambert girls basketball coach Tony Watkins right after his 600th career victory on Jan. 18, a 56-52 victory at McIntosh, he was eating a sandwich with video of region opponent West Forsyth on his computer sitting next to him.
The journey rolls along for Watkins, seven schools and 32 years and counting.
This one has been a little different for the coach who once led the Woodward Academy boys team to the semifinals, who from 2011-13 as head girls coach at Parkview went 59-2 with two region titles.
His Lady Longhorns team this season is 6-14 overall, 1-9 in Region 6-AAAAAA. Two starting players have been lost for the season to injuries. Most nights Lambert’s starting lineup consists of one senior, two sophomores and two freshmen.
Since milestone win No. 600, the one where player after player asked Watkins to pose for a photo to say they were there, a part of it all, Lambert has lost to West (55-42) and Johns Creek (43-26). The march to 700 has been slow so far.
But Watkins is unwavering. The future is bright, he says. The joy of coaching still strong within him, he declares.
Here’s the rest of our conversation that Monday afternoon:
So, coach, what does 600 wins mean to you?
"I guess the most important thing is I’ve been fortunate enough to have good players, great assistant coaches, good bosses and a very supportive family. The fortunate thing I see about it is not necessarily the numbers but that I still enjoy it after being a head coach 32 years."
Over those 32 years, how have you changed as a coach?
"Well, you know I’ve always been pretty emotional. I want the kids to play hard. I know I know a lot more. You go get that first job and you find out how little that you do know.
"I think we all work a lot harder than we did back then just because we got video tape and all that stuff that we didn’t have when we got started. There’s so much more offseason stuff. Everybody didn’t used to do all the camps and stuff.
"I don’t think I’ve changed that much other than I’ve gained a lot of weight and I aren’t got any hair left. I actually used to look pretty good. Now, I just try to make it through the day."
Will you stick around to get No. 700?
"I plan on doing it a little bit longer. The years I spent at Woodard, those aren’t really helping my retirement right now anyway. I’m probably looking at five more years I guess, as long as I’m still healthy and still enjoying it, which I still do."
What’s it been like to be a part of a building process at this part of your career?
"Well, we’re going through something I’ve never really gone through. But we knew it was going to be kind of a struggle. I think our best years are ahead, and it may actually be one more year. Our junior varsity is 11-2 and our ninth grade is 12-1. We’re young on the varsity too. I think we’re heading in the right direction.
"We’re doing things the right way as far as preparation and things like that. It is what it is. We knew it was going to be tough. We probably should’ve won a couple more. But we lost [forward] Olivia Lawson before Christmas. We lost [guard] Ellie Hammer now. She’s done for the year. That takes away probably your most athletic post player and your best outside shooter. Makes us extremely young right now. But we knew it was going to be that way and we can deal with it."
You tweeted out recently that your team has a 3.79 average GPA. Is this a good group to coach?
"It’s a very good group of girls. To be honest, they were probably more excited that that was my 600th win than I was. They all wanted to take picture and stuff like that. That’s the type of girls they are. They’re a great group and they deserve some success. Hopefully we can get a couple more before the season’s over. They’ve worked hard and bought into everything. I have no complaints."
Brian Paglia is sports editor of the Forsyth County News. He can be reached at 770-205-8982, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @BrianPaglia.