BY ETHAN LILLARD
FORT MADISON- Typically a coach that has a coaching record of 144-42 with a program is someone that would be kept around for as long as they wanted. That wasn’t the case with Central Lee High School and Tony Sargent.
After six seasons at the helm of the Hawks, Sargent’s contract wasn’t re-newed, making him a free agent. Having just lost their head coach a couple of months ago, Fort Madison jumped at the opportunity and made Sargent the new Head Coach of the Bloodhounds’ girls basketball program.
“I’ve had some good players over the years that have helped me achieve what I’ve achieved,” Sargent said. “It would be easy to say, ‘Oh, I’ve done this and this,’ but basically, my girls have always done it for me. It’s not like it’s been something I’ve done myself, I’ve had a lot of quality girls over the years.”
On top of his six seasons as the head coach at Central Lee, Sargent’s ties to Lee County date all the way back to his high school career.
Sargent graduated from Keokuk High School in 1973 and started his coaching career immediately after when he was 18 years old. Many may know Sargent from his stint with Cardinal Stritch from 1999-2001 when he helped coach his team to the state tournament.
But even before his coaching days at Stritch and Central Lee, and even before his high school career in Keokuk, Sargent was always around coaching. Sargent’s father, who taught for 52 years, was also a coach and started young, allowing him to grow up around athletics and develop a deep love for coaching.
“My dad coached, so I always grew up in a gym,” Sargent said.
He was even able to pass the father coaching lessons on to his own children when they were old enough to compete in athletics.
“I’ve been varsity and then back to kindergarten and back to varsity,” Sargent said. “I enjoy it.”
While his love for coaching was ultimately what drew him to the Fort Madison head coaching position, it was former Head Coach Todd McGhghy who enlisted the help of Sargent.
“Central Lee didn’t renew my contract,” Sargent said. “Coach (Todd) McGhghy reached out to me before he resigned and said, ‘Hey, why don’t you think about coming up and being my assistant?’”
Sargent was reluctant to the idea at first, but eventually came and helped McGhghy out with his varsity camp for a few days.
“They’ve only won three games the past two years, but when I was up there for camp they didn’t seem to be bad to me,” Sargent said. “I think Coach McGhghy has laid a foundation. Whoever took the job I think was going to be more successful than the last few years.”
While Sargent is excited for the opportunity and can’t wait to get started, he is still slightly in shock that he was able to accept the job, being a Keokuk graduate and all.
“Our nemesis was Fort Madison. Actually, I can’t believe I’m taking a job in Fort Madison,” he said with a chuckle.
“(I) Had a few other people call and ask if I wanted to be an assistant here or there. I was actually contemplating (going elsewhere), but it was a little bit further of a drive and I didn’t want to do that.”
Living on the outskirts of Keokuk, Central Lee has been a relatively easy commute. Making the drive easier was the fact Sargent’s son was starting to play varsity athletics and is showing potential. At the end of the day, he had to have a talk with his son and family to make sure they were also on board with the move.
“I’m going to have to miss some of his games, I don’t like that idea very well, but it’s part of being a coach,” Sargent said. “When I talked with him today I said, ‘Are you sure? Are you OK with this?’ And he said, ‘Dad, I’ve always looked at you as a coach, you’ve always been a coach, I support you. I had a lot of support from my family.”
Having been around the program during camp, Sargent has been filled in on the recent struggles of the girls basketball program. That doesn’t bother him. Actually, the long-time head coach is looking forward to a new challenge and helping build a program from the ground up.
“When you take a team over that’s been losing it’s not easy,” he said. “It takes a while for the girls to realize they can win and get more confidence in themselves and maybe get a desire for a little better work ethic. We’ll see.
“Basically, they’ve got most everybody back from last year’s squad. I don’t want to sit here and say we are going to do all this great stuff, but I’m very optimistic.”