‘We’re looking at going after a (Big 5) league title next year’
Mike Ernest is bringing the Del Norte girls basketball program back to basics.
Mike Ernest, who was hired in April as head coach of the Del Norte High School girls’ basketball team, will become the dean of students at Castle Rock Charter School for the 2012–13 academic year. Ernest was previously the head girls basketball coach at McKay High School in Salem, Ore. Del Norte Triplicate/Bryant Anderson
Not fundamentals — dribbling, passing and shooting will come later. Ernest, who was hired in April as the Warriors’ newest coach, is instilling the building blocks of individual and collective responsibility within his players in off-season meetings and workouts.
“The number one belief we went over is coachability,” Ernest said. “Number two is selflessness. Number three is discipline.”
Del Norte won 20 percent of its games over the past two seasons (8-32 overall) and has won five Big 5 Conference games in the past seven seasons.
Ernest has set expectations for the 2012–13 season beyond simply competing.
“We’re looking at going after a league title next year,” he said.
“Substituting at the high school (earlier this academic year), I was able to talk to the girls. One thing I got out of it: They’re sick and tired of losing. They’re upset about losing. I’ve asked my players, ‘What are you willing to do to change that?’ I’m not the type of coach that accepts losing.”
Ernest, 42, was a three-sport athlete at Choctaw High School in Choctaw, Okla., and played basketball briefly for Rose State College in Midwest City, Okla. He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Central Oklahoma and an administrative license from the University of Oregon.
Before his hiring at Del Norte, Ernest spent three years as the girls’ basketball coach at McKay High School in Salem, Ore., leaving the school after the 2010-11 season. His previous stops include South Umpqua High School in Myrtle Creek, Ore., and Brookings-Harbor High School.
Ernest, who is divorced with three children, has spent much of the 2011–12 academic year as a substitute physical education instructor at Crescent Elk Middle School. He has accepted a job as dean of students at Castle Rock Charter School, which he will begin at the conclusion of the school year.
He had gotten to know the late Eric Epperson, the Crescent Elk P.E. teacher who passed away on April 5 at the age of 44. In Ernest’s last conversation with Epperson, the two had talked about fishing and possibly going on a fishing trip together. “Let me know and I’ll take you out,” Ernest recalled Epperson saying.
“He grew up here. He had a lot of connections to the community,” Ernest said. “He definitely was well-respected. We connected really well together.”
Ernest also substituted at Del Norte, where athletic director Randy Fugate was looking for a replacement for Buzz McCulloch as the Warriors’ coach.
“He had done an excellent job for us (substituting),” Fugate said. “He had excellent presence in a room.”
Ernest continued to impress Fugate in an interview for the position.
“He was very dynamic, very prepared,” Fugate said. “He dressed professionally. He came in with a written philosophy and written practice plans.
“Anytime you have a head coaching change, you have mixed feelings. I think he’s going to be great.”
Andrew Fitch, currently a history teacher at Del Norte High, has been hired to coach the Warriors’ junior varsity team. Kristi Gavin will coach the Del Norte freshmen.
Ernest has had a group of 15 girls come in for offseason workouts, with a few others expressing interest in playing. He intends to imbue within the Warriors an aggressive mentality.
“It doesn’t matter what our record is — when our opponent steps on the court, we want to let them know they’re playing Del Norte,” he said.