Jay Walton always thought that if he left coach Scott Sanderson’s basketball coaching staff at Lipscomb University it would be to become the head coach of his own program.
But sometimes opportunity knocks with a different tone than expected. Such is the case for Walton who is leaving the assistant basketball coaching position he has held at Lipscomb for 13 years for a new career in sporting goods sales with Nashville Sporting Goods.
“I wasn’t looking to get out of coaching,” Walton said. “In fact, I had been exploring a couple of head coaching opportunities at the smaller school level.
‘The opportunity came out of nowhere. The best way I can explain it is I guess my heart was more ready for something like this than I realized. It has been a very peaceful decision. I am very excited about the move and what it is going to mean for me and my family.”
Walton and Sanderson have been working together for 15 years. Sanderson, then head coach at the University of Mobile hired Walton as an assistant on the recommendation of former Mississippi State coach Richard Williams.
Breaking those ties was the toughest part of the decision for Walton. He admits he will miss the players, but he will miss Sanderson and assistant coaches Shaun Senters and Pete Froedden the most.
“That has been the most emotional part of the decision,” Walton said. “In those 15 years there have been a lot of players come and go. Those guys were special to us. They have meant a lot to our program here and to us as coaches.
“But Scott and I have been here every year. When I first started working with Scott he and his wife, Ronda, had two children. Now he has four and Carter (the oldest) is all grown up and playing here.”
Sanderson stressed that Walton soon became more than just an assistant coach. Both families are extremely close.
“In a perfect world I would love to have Jay by my side the whole time,” Sanderson said. “He has changed my kids’ diapers. Our families are close. There is not anything he couldn’t say to me or that I couldn’t say to him.”
“He is as honest and as loyal as the day is long. He has been that person and has done a great, great job. He has a great opportunity and I can’t blame him for not accepting it.”
Many lessons learned
Walton has only worked for one other person in his career. He learned lessons from Sanderson about both basketball and parenthood.
“Just about everything I have learned about basketball has come from him,” Walton said. “But that pales in comparison with what I learned from him about being a good father and a good husband.
“It was tough to tell Scott I was leaving. I knew he would understand. But I got a little choked up. It was hard to get the words out. I had asked him to help me when I was looking for other opportunities in coaching. He had always been very supportive. I think he was surprised I was taking a job outside of coaching.”
Walton admits that he will miss many of the aspects of coaching.
“I will miss the teaching,” Walton said. “I will miss taking a guy who is very, very raw and being able to work with him though out his career and to see how far that player comes.
“I will miss the relationship with the players. Outside of teaching them basketball you know you are going to have an impact on a young man’s life. That is really why you get into coaching in the first place.”
Walton’s impact on the Bisons goes beyond his work and leadership on the court. He has also been instrumental in helping the Bisons become more involved in mission and volunteer work, including last year’s trip to the Dominican Republic.
“Jay has touched every aspect of our program,” Sanderson said. “He has been a very valuable member of our staff for a long time. He is the epitome of class.
“This day and time, especially in coaching, it doesn’t happen that someone stays with you 15 years. I will miss his calming demeanor. He thinks before he speaks. He doesn’t get too high and he doesn’t get to low.”
Time to move on
Robert Butler, president of Nashville Sporting Goods, has hired Walton to be an outside sales representative working with teams from middle schools to the university level. Ironically, one of his customers will be the Lipscomb athletic department.
Walton and his wife, Stephanie, have two children, Willie and Ruby. Like most parents Walton wants to be able to spend more time with his children.
“When you are on this level of college coaching it is tough,” Walton said. “Every time we would leave to play Atlantic Sun Conference games we would be gone five or six days. That happened four or five times a year, not to mention recruiting travel.
“With the ages of my children it was getting tougher and tougher to leave. In basketball you miss Thanksgiving and Christmas. I am looking forward to that change in lifestyle.”
Walton has never worked in sales, but he thinks that many of the things he has learned as a coach will help him in his new career.
“I will be around coaches every day,” Walton said. “Having been in their shoes I think I will be able to provide them the level of service that they need. Part of being a coach is being a salesman. It is all about relationships and people skills.
“I like the direction of the company. I am excited about the opportunity for growth there.”
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations.