Spinning keys on a lanyard around his fingers, a folded piece of paper with the day’s schedule tucked in his waistband, Jeff Ferrell stands at the center of Broughton High School’s gymnasium in Raleigh.
For Ferrell, this is where it all started. Before Shavlik Randolph filled Holliday Gym to the brim every Friday night in the late 1990s on his way to Duke and the NBA, there were youth shoes squeaking on Broughton’s purple and white lines on summer weekdays as Ferrell’s players directed campers and people popped in to see their grandsons run through cones and shoot free throws.
The camp was where prospective players were indoctrinated into the Broughton family, where old players returned home. It was part of Ferrell’s plan to create a culture: “Through the camps and the things that we do, hopefully the kids will say, ‘Dang, I want to come here. I want to be a part of this school,’” Ferrell said on Wednesday.
And now — after 22 years as the boys basketball coach at Broughton, earning titles for what he did and respect for how he did it — this camp is Ferrell’s last coaching obligation before his career comes to an end.
Ferrell, 54, said that he doesn’t know what his next move is. But in fairness to himself, his team and the program he helped build — it’s time for him to start over.
“I’m young enough where I’ll need to do something, at least part-time, I just haven’t figured out what that is,” he said. “It’s kind of weird: God told me what to get out of, but he hasn’t told me what to get into yet.”
Running a program
Ferrell — nicknamed “Chic” (pronounced “chick”) after an old UNC basketball player who his friends said he looked and played like, Richard Yonakor — grew up in Greensboro. He earned his bachelor’s degree at N.C. State and said he went into coaching basketball because he loved teaching and helping kids, more so than just wanting to be connected to the sport.
He spent his next 30 years in education and took the coaching position at Broughton in 1997, a job he’d later call “the best job in the state.”
In his tenure, Ferrell coached more NBA basketball players than any other coach he competed against in the Triangle area. The list includes Randolph and recent draftees Devonté Graham, who plays for the Charlotte Hornets, and Jerome Robinson, who plays for the L.A. Clippers.
And he coached even more players that continued playing in college — even some that weren’t recruited, but wanted to stay around the game. Chris Poole, who graduated from Broughton in 2003 and later walked on to Clemson’s basketball team, said he admires the family Ferrell fostered.
“My teams with him were often kind of undersized and undermanned, but our teamwork and just really playing together could help us overachieve, and that’s definitely something he would preach,” Poole said. “He kind of helped everyone believe in themselves, believe in the team and (get them) to do more than just be an individual.”
By the end of his career, Ferrell won four regular season titles and four tournament championships. In 2001, Ferrell coached in one of the most famous high school games ever played in North Carolina, against Leesville Road in a sold-out Reynolds Coliseum. In 2013 — the year he hired his eventual successor, Clarence Coleman, as an assistant coach — his team made the 4A state finals.
“When I first got over here as a JV coach, I asked, ‘Coach, do you want me to run your plays?’” Coleman said, laughing. “He basically gave me free rein, with one obligation: ‘You have to teach these kids how to play man-to-man defense.’”
It didn’t take long for Ferrell to earn the respect of his community and of the other coaches that he competed against. Panther Creek coach Shawan Robinson, who had several Broughton players on the AAU teams he previously coached, said Ferrell was good at getting his players to buy into his system.
“I never sat in his huddle,” Robinson said. “But I do know that the guys that he coached loved Broughton, and the program was always bigger than, you know, anybody that came through it.”
Ferrell said that there wasn’t a specific moment when he realized he was ready to leave. It was a gradual process.
In the seasons leading up to his retirement, Ferrell noticed that he’d started giving his assistant coaches more responsibility, asking them to lead offseason workouts on the track and in the weight room — activities he used to do himself. He “started getting away” from writing letters to his players the year after they graduated, a tradition he’d once done religiously.
Ferrell said he wanted to leave before he sold his players, and his program, short. He announced his retirement in December.
“I kind of felt myself maybe not doing some things that I used to do, not having quite the energy that I had,” Ferrell said. “I still had some left in the tank, but I didn’t want to wait until it was empty, and then have a miserable year and have the kids be miserable and I be miserable and bring the program down.
“I wanted to leave it in good hands, and I wanted to leave and feel good about it.”
As the campers run out of the gym to eat lunch, Ferrell walks in and tidies up the court, throwing empty water bottles in the trash and putting basketballs away in preparation for the second half of the day. Next summer, he likely won’t be in this gym, running this camp again.
For the time being, he plans to build something new — kind of like what he did 22 years ago.
“I’m looking forward to the next chapter of my life,” Ferrell said. “And who knows? I might go back, and start this all over again.”