The last time the Forsyth Central boys basketball team advanced to the state playoffs, Greg Dirst was at the helm. More than a decade later, he is back in charge to try to lead the Bulldogs back to the postseason.
After serving as an assistant coach for the past four years on the staff of Steve Barnes, who retired after the season, Dirst was recently promoted to head coach by Central athletic director Mike Woodard.
“Anytime you can promote from within it gives you the chance to maintain consistency and continuity in your program, and we certainly have a lot of confidence in coach Dirst,” Woodard said.
“You want to look within first, but with the nature of the competitiveness of basketball in this state, you wouldn’t be doing right by your parents or your players if you didn’t open up the search and consider other candidates.
“But [Dirst’s] track record solidified our decision,” Woodard said. “He knows our program, knows our parents and our kids and our school’s philosophy. Coach Barnes had a long stay with great success on and off the floor. [Promoting Dirst] was a big decision for our program.”
Dirst began his teaching and coaching career in Forsyth County in 1989 and as head basketball coach, led the Bulldogs to the state playoffs in 1997, 1999 and 2001. He left the county after that season to become the head basketball coach at Cherokee County, where he also served as an assistant football coach through 2004, when he was named head football coach at Lassiter High School. He led that program until 2008, the year he returned to Central and joined Barnes’ staff.
“Central is a special place. This is quite an honor for me,” Dirst said. “[Barnes] let me join him here four years ago and I can’t say how much I appreciate that.”
Dirst has his work cut out for him. Not only have the Bulldogs failed to make the state playoffs for the past 10 seasons, their overall record since 2008 is 37-83.
Forsyth County’s other teams haven’t fared much better. Including Pinecrest Academy, which went 6-19 in Class A, the six Georgia High School Association programs in the county finished with an overall record of 49-105 last season.
But Dirst said he believes Forsyth County teams, particularly Central, can be successful in boys basketball.
“I don’t believe you can label a county as a football county or a baseball county or a basketball county,” he said. “I think each year is different. The key is getting into the middle schools and building relationships with the kids and their parents and the coaches. When you help develop better players, it’s funny how you become a better coach.”
Dirst said he plans on spending as much time as possible helping to build Central’s middle school feeder programs, particularly at Otwell Middle, where all of the students are zoned to attend Central.
“It’s more than just going to watch the kids play,” Dirst said. “I want to build relationships with the coaches and parents and get to the practices too, when I can, maybe once a week, to try to help the coaches build the skill level of their players.”
As for his own players, Central loses five seniors, including seven-foot center Andrew Fishler. But the Bulldogs return leading scorer T.J. Custer, a junior, and talented sophomore Jeremiah Jones, as they move into Region 7-AAAAA with the likes of Osborne (23-6 last season) and Sprayberry (19-7).
“We’ve got T.J. coming back and Jeremiah, and some other good 10th graders moving up,” Dirst said. “We’ve got a good ninth grade class coming in, too. Our region will be more athletic, very tough. But our goal will always be to win the region and get into the state tournament.”