By Marc Pruitt
Sean Vestal knew it was time.
After a coaching career that spanned more than 22 years, Vestal, the boys’ basketball coach and athletics director at North Forsyth, decided it was time for his next chapter and resigned last week. He will remain as the Vikings’ athletics director, a position he has held for the last six years—all while also coaching the basketball team, a position he has held for the last 12 years.
“This was something that I’ve contemplated for a few years now,” Vestal said. “Doing both jobs was difficult, especially when it was basketball season. But everybody you talk to who has ever coached will tell you that you will 100 percent know when it’s time for you to step aside. And that’s the case for me now. It’s been a heck of a run and I’ve enjoyed every second of it.”
Vestal’s resume speaks for itself: 217 wins (second most in school history), state playoff appearances in each of his 12 seasons, five regular season conference championships, one conference tournament championship, Coach of the Year three times, Regional appearances five times, including reaching the Regional final during the 2013-14 season, and sending 32 players to play at the college level.
And, by the way, he is also the school’s all-time winningest volleyball coach.
That’s right—when Vestal arrived at North in 1998, he was the volleyball coach and the assistant girls’ basketball coach.
“Come to think of it, we made the state playoffs every year I was the volleyball coach, too,” Vestal said with a laugh. “So, there wasn’t 1 year that I’ve been coaching at North where my teams didn’t reach the playoffs. That’s a pretty good accomplishment if you ask me.”
When his playing days and college years were over, Vestal landed his first coaching job at Forbush Middle School coaching the seventh and eighth grade boys’ basketball team.
“I’ve come a long way since that little gym at Forbush,” Vestal said.
Indeed he has.
Vestal played at Eden Morehead under John Harder, graduating in 1991 before going to UNC Pembroke and playing on its junior varsity team for two seasons.
“That’s when I really got the coaching bug,” Vestal said. “Coach Harder was probably the most influential on me when I was first starting out. He’s the one who inspired me to start coaching.”
And when Vestal arrived at North Forsyth, he was not only offered a job as the volleyball coach, but as an assistant girls’ basketball coach under Mike Muse.
“I’ll never forget the conversation we had,” Vestal said. “He was the girl’s coach at the time, and he said to me ‘I can offer you something no one else can offer you–a girls’ basketball position where you’re not going to get paid any money because I can’t pay you as an assistant. You’re going to have to volunteer, but you’ll learn more basketball than you ever have before.’ And I’m looking at him as a 24-year old kid and saying, ‘You mean I’ve got to coach for free?’ And Muse tells me ‘I promise you, this is going to take you places,’ and he was 100 percent right. That little orange ball has taken me from the girls to the boy’s program, and we were able to do some great stuff.”
He spent two seasons with Muse and the girls’ program before moving over with him as an assistant on the boys’ team for five seasons. When Muse left to join Skip Prosser’s staff at Wake Forest, Vestal took the reins of the boys’ program for the 2006-07 season.
Vestal said that his relationship with Muse has been has been monumental for his development as a coach and as a person.
“Mike and I were very fortunate because we got to travel overseas and coach together,” Vestal said. “We got to go to Australia and New Zealand one summer, Italy and Greece one summer, and England and Holland one summer. Just like he told me, that little orange ball has taken me all over the world, and a lot of that is because of Mike. He took me under his wing and I got to learn about basketball with him, with his brother, Andy (coach at Mount Tabor), and with their father, Tom (won two state championships in his career at Parkland). I call myself an honorary Muse because we spent so much time together.”
Vestal acknowledged that one of the reasons he knew the timing was right to step aside was because of his own family. He had two daughters, ages 9 and 5, who said he sometimes felt guilty for not spending as much time with them.
“They don’t always want to come to the gym with daddy,” Vestal said. “They want to play Barbie or play house or something. I know they always understood. But I missed the daddy-daughter dance with my oldest for the third straight year this year because I was coaching, and those are moments you can’t get back. You start to look at things from a father’s perspective, and I was missing out on a lot of things that most dads aren’t missing out on. Selfishly, there just came a time when I had to start putting myself over everybody else, and my family over everything else, and I don’t think I’ve ever done that in my coaching career until now.”
Vestal said he would miss the competition, the Tuesday and Friday nights, developing game plans and scouting opponents to figure out a way to beat them.
“The relationships you forge because of this game are just incredible,” Vestal said. “Obviously, you have the players—and I’ve enjoyed being a father figure to every kid I’ve ever coached. There’s always these kids that you never want to leave. I’ll miss going to dinner after big wins with my staff and their families and celebrating. This will sound funny, but I’m also going to miss the officials. A lot of them have reached out to me since my announcement. I’ll really miss that banter with them. At the end of the day, we always respected each other, no matter how hard I might have been giving it to them.”
Vestal appreciates all his relationships. From getting hired by former principal Ron Jessup and athletics director David Atkins, to former principal Rodney Bass, who first allowed him to maintain AD and coaching duties, to current principal Melita Wise, who allowed him to continue in the dual capacity—one that is unique in the Winston-Salem Forsyth County school system because of the demands placed on the athletics director.
“Because I was hired as the AD in mid-August, I think I got grandfathered in,” Vestal said. “But Mr. Bass always told me he was comfortable with me doing both jobs and it would be my decision alone to step aside from one if I wanted to. When Ms. Wise got here three years ago, we never had the conversation about giving up basketball to remain the AD, or ‘you’ve got to pick one.’ I appreciate that they both allowed me to go out on my own timeframe.”
As this season wore on, Vestal said he started to think in terms of ‘this is the last time I’m going to coach in the Frank Spencer, or this is the last time we’re going to play in this gym.’
“On senior night, I looked at Ms. Wise and told her ‘this is the last time I’ll be coaching in Cartwright Gym,” said Vestal, who still hadn’t officially made up his mind. “She looked at me and said, ‘you’re serious, aren’t you?’ And I just knew. I knew it was right, just like everyone told me I would. After all this time, you grow up, and you get your priorities straight. And mine just won’t involve that little orange ball like they used to.”