Oakland grad Mandrell to lead Oakwood

Oakland grad Mandrell to lead Oakwood

FITHIAN — Jeff Mandrell went from being inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame to ousted from his sideline gig in the span of less than four months.

And since Mounds Meridian declined to rehire Mandrell before the 2014-15 boys' hoops season, he simply taught physical education and driver's education in the southern Illinois town. Now, the 1986 Oakland graduate is back among the coaching ranks.

Mandrell has taken over the Oakwood boys' basketball program after four-year leader Craig Black accepted the same position at Sullivan last month.

"This gets me back in an area I'm familiar with," said Mandrell, who will teach P.E. at Oakwood. "I just feel like I needed a change. I'm near the end of my career with teaching, and I thought there was a little more out there."

Mandrell experienced great success in 16 seasons helming the Meridian Bobcats, piling up a 342-131 record with six regional titles and two sectional trophies.

Over his final nine years with the program, Meridian won between 20 and 29 games each campaign.

Prior to working with the Bobcats, Mandrell watched over boys' squads at Crescent-Iroquois, Trenton Wesclin and Oakland. His career coaching ledger is 452-200 across 23 seasons.

Even with all of that experience, Mandrell had to do plenty of soul searching before applying for the Comets' lead role.

"You always feel a little nervous when you make a move," he said. "There's that part where you go back and forth on whether you want to do it or not. Sometimes, you need to step out of your comfort zone and don't be afraid to take chances."

Oakwood is coming off a run that included Vermilion County Tournament and Vermilion Valley Conference championships.

The program has not won postseason hardware, however, since 1990.

Mandrell's roster loses five 2018 graduates, but he's slated to receive the efforts of six rising seniors.

"I think it's a place where they've had some good tradition and played good competition," Mandrell said. "I think we have a chance to compete. You've got to have some talent to win, and I think we do."

Mandrell said the decision to apply at Oakwood was made easier by the fact he wasn't already in charge of another team. He'll bring his expertise, which includes dressing for three varsity seasons as an athlete at Oakland, to a Comets crew that posted a 19-10 record in its previous campaign.

For now, he's keeping his goals simple for Oakwood's 2018-19 season.

"You always want to try and have a winning record, but that's easier said than done," Mandrell said. "I didn't have these kids in the summer, so we're pretty much going to be putting in a system on the fly. I hope we'll mesh well and get better as the season goes on."