Wilson girls’ basketball coach Erin Carey announced that she is stepping down at the end of the school year next week, in what will amount to the loss of one of the city’s bright young coaching stars. Carey has coached the Bruins for five years, taking a 9-18 team and turning them into a CIF Southern Section Division 3 champion last year, the first title in 20 years for Wilson. The Bruins were placed in Division 1 this year after a 2020 campaign that saw them win CIF-SS title and 25 wins, the most wins in 15 years for a Wilson team.
In what has become a familiar–and heartbreaking–refrain for a departing talented coach, Carey said that she doesn’t want to step down, but that the financial constraints of being a walk-on coach have forced her to.
“If they could get me on campus I’d stay, if I was on campus it would be so easy to keep going forever,” she said. “But COVID hit and my company shut down and I got laid off. I’ve just been floating and I have to put myself first and get a steady career going. The amount of time running the program makes it next to impossible–my wife’s been carrying the load so I’ve got to hold up my half.”
Carey, who works in aerospace, said that as she was filling out job applications she found herself turning down job applications because she knew that the position wouldn’t allow her to be at Wilson at 3 p.m. for practices.
“I’m sabotaging myself, doing that,” she said. “I’ve got to put the nail in the coffin that this chapter is done for now so I can move on. It’s a selfish thing I have to do for myself, which sucks.”
Wilson athletic director Jeff Evans said that Carey will be sorely missed.
“Thank you Coach Carey for giving everything to our Lady Bruins and coaching with your heart and soul from each practice to the championship game,” said Evans in a statement. “Long Beach Wilson Girls Basketball would not be where it is today without your efforts.”
Wilson is looking for their next girls’ basketball coach, and are asking for interested parties to send resumes and two letters of recommendation to Lloyd Wilson, the school’s athletic administrator by Monday, July 26th at lwilson@Lbschools.net. Because there’s no teaching positions available, the compensation is a season stipend of $4,533.03.
It’s been a season of change at Wilson, where the school has had to look for new coaches in football, girls’ soccer, boys’ and girls’ golf, girls’ basketball, and a new athletic director. It highlights the challenges for the LBUSD and all public school districts of trying to build athletic departments through walk-on hires. Mark Ziegenhagen was in a similar position to Carey, stepping down from a historically successful run as the school’s football coach because the walk-on stipend didn’t work professionally, wishing he could find a way on campus to continue coaching.
On-campus coaches typically bring stability–and thus usually success–to their teams. The two programs Carey was trying to unseat in Long Beach Poly and Millikan are both coached by longtime on-campus teachers in Poly’s Carl Buggs and Lorene Morgan.
Like all schools, the LBUSD’s coaching stipends were originally meant to augment teacher salaries for those doing extra work after school–they’re of the same professional type that yearbook and music teachers make within a school district. They weren’t meant to compensate a walk-on employee for a full year’s worth of work running a high school program, which is increasingly what they’re being used for.
One of the major disparities between public and private schools is that privates can decide with an agreement between a principal and a president of a school to pay a walk-on coach whatever they want for the year, or to bring someone on campus in a non-teaching position without them getting a teaching credential. That flexibility doesn’t exist in public school districts, and it’s posing a challenge in the LBUSD where there’s a generation of highly accomplished teacher-coaches retiring, and often being replaced by walk-ons.
“It’s a tough situation, I’ll say that, it’s been really hard on me,” said Carey. “I really want to be here for these kids. Hopefully it’s not the end of the road. I just have to find a way to make it work.”