Eagle announces he is stepping down

Dennis Grall photo Bark River-Harris head coach Josh Eagle reacts during a game against Escanaba, Jan. 2 at Escanaba.

HARRIS — Over the last three years, the Bark River-Harris girls’ basketball team has seen success. 2017 saw the Broncos make it all the way to the Division 4 regional final, and again in 2018. Even in 2019, after they moved up to Division 3, they clinched their conference championship (Skyline Central). Despite this success, head coach Josh Eagle announced he is stepping down.

The major reason he cited is time.

“It’s time. I work two jobs, and I think most people know how coaches work,” he said. “All the extra time I needed for coaching, plus two jobs and a family, I just couldn’t find the balance anymore. It’s just not feasible. I think it was the right time to step away with Bark River having such an amazing future.”

Family is something that’s important to him, and it is one of the major reasons he would be in a time crunch if he still tried coaching full-time.

“My oldest daughter is going into seventh grade,” he said. “I just really wanted to be there for them in junior high at the very least. The other two are both 10 and going into sixth grade. I have no interest in coaching my kids in high school, but I think I could help them out before that. I started helping with the fifth grade sports program last year, and I’ll be helping with the sixth this year.”

However, it wasn’t like the Bark River girls were doing poorly before Eagle started in the 2016-17 season. The records for the two years before him were an impressive 21-3 (2014-15) and 19-2 (2015-16), which also included a Division 4 district title. He had no problems with how the team was functioning when he started.

“Joel Schultz and Paul Anderson (previous coaches) both did an amazing job,” he said. “It was a very hard-working and already well-oiled machine. I felt like it was a smooth transition even though I had different philosophies and strategies like any other coach. Once they bought into that it definitely started working smoothly.”

For his tenure there, Eagle focused on something which would become a recurring theme: family.

“When I asked my players in the first year how they wanted to focus the program, they ended up with family,” he said. “We had to take it as more than just the word. A family runs the gamut. Sometimes it can be dysfunctional, but there’s always a core there of love and trust, and I think the players really felt that on a base level. Out of trust, love, and fellowship, trust was the biggest thing we had to get across.”

He emphasized the things they focused on were about getting the right environment on the team so they could be successful.

“The players had a choice, and they chose to share the ball and share the time,” he said. “They encourage one another to be better. It didn’t happen immediately, but even though we started individually, I think we ended as a family.”

Ultimately, he hopes that he taught his players things that could transcend basketball and leech into other parts of their lives.

“I think we did a fantastic job teaching them life skills,” he said. “It’s more about ‘we’ than about ‘me’. Hopefully that will dribble over into their lives. If you give 100 percent toward your goal, how can you fail? At the end of that day you can rest easy.”

In the end, Eagle is confident Bark River will be successful with or without him.

“I love those kids and that program. It was awesome,” he said. “Whoever takes over is going to be blessed. All the players work their butt off. Along with the amazing basketball community that Bark River has, I think it’ll be hard to fail. It’s basically a religion there.”

Eagle’s move won’t be particularly far removed from his role at Bark River, even if he won’t be coaching.

“I’ll still be working, but everything else is going to be switched to youth,” he said. “I’ll be helping the girls out in their sports programs and just taking steps forward with my life. That’s the most important thing. The plan is to be a family man.”

He saw a lot of crouching in the immediate future.

“Ava, Anjeni, and Jenessa (his daughters) are all going to start softball soon. So, I imagine there’s going to be a lot of playing catcher in the backyard during spring.”

Eagle stressed he had a team that he relied on just like the basketball team relied on each other.

“There was no one man show,” he said. “My assistant coach Justin Bloniarz was amazing. He worked without pay and was at every single practice unless he had work. I couldn’t have done it without him. The team basically had two head coaches. I don’t know that many people would’ve made that kind of time commitment.

“Ross Rahoi is the jayvee coach. We started at the same time and we were basically best friends since then, and it’s been a great ride.

“Seth Miller (Hannahville) is my mentor,” he said. “He’s the guy I talk to about everything, including coaching philosophies. If it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t be coaching. He’s really helped me out. He’s gotten me through pitfalls and made it much easier.

“James Ericson, the super fan, also helped keep up morale. He’d come to every practice and every game. He’s constantly encouraging all the girls and being a positive role model.”

Of course, he couldn’t forget his girlfriend Jen Platt.

“(She) has been my rock this whole season. She probably wanted me to continue to coach, but I couldn’t justify the time away from the kids.

“Bark River is going to be fine. They have an amazing future and an outstanding community. They’re going to do just fine, maybe better,” he joked.