Following a college basketball career at East Carolina, Al Edwards returned to his alma matter, Greenport High School, as a coach, working with his former high school coach, Dude Manwaring. Edwards’ rise to becoming a varsity coach was much faster than he could have imagined.
“I can’t even say I thought I would be the JV coach,” Edwards recalled. “I was just helping [Manwaring]. All of a sudden, he was coaching JV and I was coaching the varsity.”
Just like that, a coaching career began and lasted, perhaps even longer than Edwards himself could have imagined.
After 34 years as Greenport’s coach, Edwards has decided it is time for a change — for himself and the team. The man who has become an icon for Greenport boys basketball in a coaching career that touched five decades, is stepping down as the Porters’ coach.
“There comes a time when you have to do that,” Edwards, 59, said. “I guess it’s time to just hang it up and move on.”
The Greenport athletic director, Robbie Costantini, confirmed the news Monday that Edwards had submitted his retirement papers as both a coach and a physical education teacher for special needs students at the Port Jefferson Academic Center.
“He’s an icon,” Costantini said. “Are you kidding me? Greenport basketball, Al Edwards.”
Costantini said Edwards is “a great guy, a great coach. He did us proud.”
More than anyone else, Edwards could be regarded as Mr. Greenport Basketball. He first made his mark as a high-flying player, who wasn’t shy about launching jump shots, sometimes from long range before the three-point shot was instituted. At the time of his graduation from Greenport High School in 1972, Edwards was Suffolk County’s all-time leading scorer with 2,117 points next to his name. That record stood for 17 years before Kenny Wood of East Hampton broke it during the 1988-89 season.
Edwards’ No. 33 jersey was the only retired number that hung in Greenport High School’s Richard “Dude” Manwaring Gymnasium since 1992. That was until this past Jan. 30 when another Greenport uniform number, the No. 34 that belonged to Ryan Creighton, was retired, to be raised onto the wall of honor next to Edwards’ 33. Creighton passed Edwards and everyone else on Long Island’s scoring charts, putting up 2,799 career points over five varsity seasons.
After high school, Edwards, who was a New York Daily News All-American, went on to play at the NCAA Division I level for East Carolina on a full basketball scholarship. He played four seasons for the Pirates, captaining the team his senior season when he averaged 10.7 points per game.
Following his college career, Edwards returned to Greenport, this time as a coach. He was soon was handed the reigns of the varsity team in 1979.
“That was the onset of a lot of good things,” Costantini said. “I always felt that Al wanted to give back, and he always did.”
Over the past 34 years, Edwards’ teams have enjoyed great successes. He guided the Porters to three New York State final fours in Glens Falls. Edwards’ coaching record is incomplete, but a review of The Suffolk Times’ archives found that he has won at least 343 games and lost at least 252. That takes into account a 19-3 season in 2000-1 when the Porters were later found to have used an ineligible player and those 19 wins were declared forfeits.
The Porters went 10-8 last season, losing to Pierson in a Suffolk County Class C outbracket game that proved to be Edwards’ last one as Greenport’s coach.
“It’s been a long time, but it’s been really rewarding and it’s been a lot of fun,” Edwards said. “I met a lot of people all through the years and coached a lot of players. Happy days.”
The retirement of Edwards, who was among those in the first class inducted into the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame, marks the end of an era for the Porters.
With his even-tempered demeanor, Edwards showed class in victory or defeat. Costantini said he remembers how Edwards always gave players a chance to redeem themselves after they made a mistake.
“I don’t believe he ever kicked a player off his team,” Costantini said. “He would discipline them. He would suspend them, but he always gave the kid an opportunity to come back.”
Edwards said it is true that he never kicked a player off his team. “It’s all a learning process,” he said. “Everybody’s going to grow and everybody’s going to make mistakes.”
Edwards acknowledged that it will feel odd for him in November when basketball practices start. He said it will be the first winter since he was 10 years old that he will not be officially linked to a team.
“It’s been my life,” he said. “It will definitely be strange. The winter time will not be the same.”
The first day of Edwards’ retirement will be July 1. He said he plans to travel, but he will still live in Greenport and check out games in the area. “I’ll be here and there,” he said. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Costantini said that if the school’s budget passes next week the school district will soon move to name a successor. Two obvious candidates would seem to be the team’s assistant coach, Rodney Shelby, and Greenport’s junior varsity coach, Ev Corwin.
While reflecting on a lifetime of basketball in an interview with The Suffolk Times two years ago, Edwards said, “I was always surrounded by good people.”
On Monday, Edwards spoke of how he cherished his basketball years.
“I wouldn’t trade it,” he said. “It’s been fun. I had a good time. It’s been a good run, and I appreciate all the support from the community, and I’d do it over again.”