By David Willis
---- — E.J. Perry is well aware of the legacy of Jim Tildsley, the man who recently retired as Andover High girls basketball coach after 387 wins and — most importantly — four state titles.
“I am in the Andover High gym basically every day and I see those state title banners hanging there,” Perry said. “It’s an inspiration. Jim is probably one of the top girls basketball coaches in state history. Like the commercial said, ‘Often imitated, never duplicated.’ That success is something we want to imitate.”
Now, after admiring Tildsley’s success from the stands, Perry will take on the daunting task of replacing the legend.
This week, the Golden Warriors announced that Perry has been hired as head girls basketball coach. He replaces Tildsley, who built a dynasty with the four titles and a 387-60 record in 18 years at Andover before retiring at the end of last season.
“I’m thrilled,” Perry said. “This is really a tremendous opportunity. I love basketball, but it had to be the right fit with football. I love the challenge, and I couldn’t be taking over for a better person than Coach Tildsley.”
Taking on the challenge now makes Perry the busiest man in sports, since he adds the basketball job to his duties as Andover High head football and boys volleyball coach.
“Coaching is in my blood,” Perry said. “My father, my grandfather and all of my brothers. I sat down with my family and asked if I am ready for that transition. With the new playoff system in football, there would only be a week of overlap if we made the Super Bowl.
“I want to win Super Bowls, and I believe in delegating to my assistant coaches. I will be reaching out to Jim’s assistants (Leo Lafond and Kerri O’Dea). I love coaching and I love Andover. I am always raring to go”
While Tildsley’s legacy is tough to match, Perry has an impressive basketball resume — and championship pedigree — of his own to go with his two MVC titles in three seasons as Golden Warrior football coach.
A star on the court at Andover and Colby College, Perry spent 12 seasons as head boys basketball coach at Salem, N.H., High, going 177-100 and winning two Class L titles. That after stints as head man at Malden Catholic (82-66 record) and Algonquin (16-5 record). He left the Salem job after taking the Andover football job.
“When I first came to football, I felt like there was a certain amount of time and organization I had to put in,” Perry, 48, said. “But once I got through that, I felt I could step up and take on other endeavors. I wouldn’t say I missed basketball, but I always enjoyed coaching it. I went to as many of the Andover girls basketball games as I could and seeing the passion that they play the game made me very interested. I felt like it was a perfect fit.”
The possibility of juggling football and basketball seemed more possible following a conversation with Mike Redding, who is head coach in both football and girls hoops at Mansfield.
“I was at a conference (game) in late April and Redding was getting an award,” said Perry, who teaches at Andover’s West Elementary School. “He talked about how the two could work together. That really piqued my interest. Soon after, I called (Andover athletic director) Don (Doucette) and sent in my resume.”
Doucette was thrilled when he learned Perry was interested in the job.
“I know E.J. so much more as a basketball coach than a football coach,” Doucette said. “While I was a college basketball coach, I got to know E.J. through recruiting and camps. When I found out he was interested, then got to the point of being very interested, he became our sole focus and we knew he was right for the job.”
Perry expressed no concern about taking on his first girls head coaching job after coaching boys in football, basketball and volleyball. He said he planned to meet with the team soon. Andover was hit hard by the graduation of 1,000-point scorer Devon Caveney and defensive whiz Jackie Alois from an 18-7 team which fell to eventual state champion Central Catholic 62-31 in the Division 1 North semifinals this winter.
“I have coached some of my daughter’s teams over the years,” said Perry of junior-to-be Andover hoopster Julia. “And for a while, I worked with the girls hurdlers at Salem. I watched these girls work with coach Tildsley and these girls are very focused on listening and doing the drills.
“These are motivated kids at Andover that want to succeed. That’s all you can ask.”