PANAMA CITY BEACH, FL (WJHG/WECP) Gulf Coast men's head basketball coach Phil Gaffney is ready to return to work, continuing a terrific story of recovery and resilience for both the coach and the players he was forced away from a couple of months ago in the midst of a title run.
Gulf Coast men's basketball coach Phil Gaffney recovering from serious medical issue.
As you probably have heard, his team just won the Region 8 or State Championship, that under the guidance of assistant coach Scott Jackson who's run the Gulf Coast bench since mid January. That because following a win over Tallahassee on January 18th, coach Gaffney suffered a heart attack, which eventually led him to open heart surgery.
We caught up with coach Gaffney Friday, who spoke openly about all he's been through, starting with that night back in January, as he coached through the effects of a heart attack!
"I did feel a little funny, didn't feel well." coach Gaffney told me. "I felt a little tightness in the chest, a little breathing issue. And just overall didn't feel real good. But I think the adrenaline flowing through your veins, and you're playing for first place in the Panhandle Conference, that game was. So we're trying to win the game and you're not thinking about 'I don't feel good' and certainly you don't think it's a heart attack."
But it was. Shortly after that diagnosis, it looked like Gaffney could have the kind of procedure that would have allowed him to come back in a week or two!
"And then unfortunately when they did the heart cath (catherization) to put the stents in and they just said it was too dangerous and they weren't going to do it." the coach told me. "Which is the smart way to go, but a little disappointing because if you have the stent you can go right away. But if you have the triple bypass, well now you're going to be out awhile. So that's unfortunate.
Open heart is a painful surgery, with a long recovery period. Tough enough to go through, but for a coach, of a team competing for a league title and a berth at State, well the whole process is even tougher!
"That was more painful, because I love our guys." Gaffney says. "Not only are they good players and they've had a magical season. But they are really good people. And I can't stand being home. That's another thing. My wife knew that was going be tough, sitting around the house for awhile, before you could go back, it was going to be difficult."
As we saw Saturday, the Commodores finished out an incredible run with that state title, earning a berth to Nationals. That leaves open the possibility of coach Gaffney traveling to Kansas and coaching the team out there next week. Though his return, whenever it may be, comes with new realities!
"Yeah it is a medical reality." the coach acknowledges. "I can't let my heart rate get high, you can't let it get into A-fib (atrial fibralliation) and all that. So I've actually got an Apple watch now, first time. I never wear jewelry. I'm going to put an Apple watch on that actually does your EKG and your heart rate and everything. Keeps track of it so when I do go back I will have that as a check point to see how I'm doing and how I'm feeling."
Coach Gaffney is medically cleared to return for light work starting Tuesday. Right now the plan is for him to travel to Kansas with the team, as long as he doesn't suffer any setbacks. And that would be the perfect ending to an incredible team story, given these Commodores lost their head coach midseason and a short time later their starting point guard KK Godwin to suspension.
"He was our second leading scorer, leading assist guy." the coach told me. "You lose him and you lose the head coach. And those are two very important...you lose your point guard and your head coach, those are two very big things. For our guys to lose those and still stick together, stay together. Especially they've had a couple of tough years. You know last year's team, a lot of the reasons these guys came back, they were two and ten, they finished in last place. That's one of the things when I called them up in the summer time to recruit them, bitter taste in their mouth from losing last year. And they said coach we don't want to lose again. We want to come back and prove that we're not last place material, we're first place material. And we can make a run at a national championship."
And as it turns out, they were right. The coach is the 8th seed heading to Hutchinson, with its first game set for Tuesday, March 17th.
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