DULUTH -- Though Eddie Hood made a name for himself on the tracks of Gwinnett County, he never lost his love for basketball.
Since he left college, the 2000 South Gwinnett graduate has been working toward his hoops goal to become a head coach. He now has his chance.
Hood, 29, was announced Friday as the new head boys basketball coach at Duluth, which held an assembly to introduce him along with the Wildcats' new wrestling coach, Steve Fairchild. Fairchild led Duluth's wrestling program from 1997 to 2000, before stepping down to recover from cancer, and decided now was a great time to return to that position.
In hiring Hood, Duluth athletic director Bill Navas said he went against his plan for filling the spot. He wanted a veteran with head coaching experience, but instead chose a first-time head coach.
"Of the three final candidates, the two I didn't hire were what I said I had been looking for (in terms of head coaching experience)," Navas said. "But I was just moved by the energy, the enthusiasm and the excitement Eddie Hood brings to the table."
Hood was on the basketball and track and field teams at South Gwinnett, helping the Comets to a rare region track title his senior season. He was a good enough basketball player to warrant interest from smaller schools, but chose track and field for college because he got a full scholarship from Campbell University (N.C.).
A county and region champion in the 800-meter run in high school, as well as a two-time top-four placer at state, Hood was an all-conference runner in college who qualified for NCAA Regionals.
While he's coached track at Newton, Shiloh and Central Gwinnett (where he's currently the head girls track coach), his long-term career focus was on basketball. His first job in 2004-05 was for the legendary Ron Bradley at Newton, which reached the Final Four that season. After three more seasons at Newton, he coached two years at Shiloh and then this past season at Central.
"I've learned from lots of different, great coaches," Hood said. "They helped shape me and hopefully that can make me into a great coach one day."
Hood has spent his post-college life absorbing himself in basketball, including summers of working college basketball camps at Georgia Tech, Auburn and Villanova. He hopes that experience will help turn around a Duluth team that has improved, but hasn't reached the playoff level yet out of tough Region 7-AAAAA.
"Our younger kids, the sophomores and freshmen, are pretty good," Hood said of Duluth. "We just need to be in the weight room and learning some fundamentals. Before those guys leave, I want to be pushing for a playoff spot. The potential is there for that. That would be great for them. I don't think Duluth has been to the playoffs in 10 or 12 years."
Fairchild faces a similar rebuilding effort in the wrestling program, though he is very recognizable in the community. He has coached and taught at Duluth for 14 years, coaching wrestling, cross country and golf during his career.
Like Hood, he also has a background in running and originally went to college on a track and cross country scholarship. He transferred to the University of Georgia to wrestle at the precise point when colleges in the Southeast began dismantling their wrestling programs.
He stuck with the sport on a coaching level, including a stint as Duluth's head coach in the late 1990s. His teams were very competitive back then, something he hopes to rekindle.
"I think we can be there again, I know we can," Fairchild said. "It takes time, effort and commitment. We have a youth program. It's about getting the number of staff and coaches together. We're getting a mat for our middle school program. You have to have the feeder programs. ... We've got a good history here. It's time to build on it."