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Grayson named McKeesport coach

| Thursday, May 29, 2014, 1:21 a.m.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Daily News
Elizabeth Forward coach Gerald Grayson watches team workouts Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013.

McKeesport and Gerald “Puddin” Grayson will reunite next season on the basketball floor. Only this time, the former city football star and longtime McKeesport girls basketball coach will lead the Tigers' boys team.

By a vote of 7-2 on Wednesday, the McKeesport school board named Grayson to succeed Corey Gadson, who retired after 11 seasons as boys coach.

Grayson coached the Elizabeth Forward boys for the past two seasons, compiling a record of 32-15. He led the Warriors to a 20-4 record and a trip to the WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinals in 2013-14.

“At my age, to get the McKeesport job, it's a very humbling experience,” the 66-year-old Grayson said. “Just to be in the conversation, it's a very emotional time for me. I understand McKeesport. I've been here for a very long time.”

Other than a four-year span when he attended Boise State, Grayson has spent his entire life in the city. He is a retired McKeesport teacher who has continued to mentor young people in the district and has served as a deacon at Bethlethem Baptist Church.

“He's a McKeesport guy, and the kids need a McKeesport guy,” McKeesport athletics director Charley Kiss said. “They're going to see he's very committed to them and passionate about them. I think he's ready to get to work.”

The McKeesport boys finished the 2013-14 season with an 11-11 record (7-7 Section 2-AAAA), missing the WPIAL playoffs for just the second time under Gadson's watch. The Tigers' most recent roster includes seven players expected to return next season.

Grayson is also a former girls coach at Duquesne and previously coached the McKeesport ninth-grade boys.

Behind Swin Cash, who went on to win a NCAA championship at Connecticut, an Olympic goal medal and three WNBA titles, Grayson's 1997-98 McKeesport girls team won a WPIAL Class AAAA championship.

In 1999, Grayson abruptly resigned in his 13th season, citing a coaching burnout and personal reasons. But he never lost his allegiance to the school, and he's back with a renewed commitment.

“There is a lot of tradition at McKeesport, but a lot of kids today don't really know much about it,” Grayson said. “We've had some players get big-time scholarships. I know that, because I was part of that tradition. It's something I'd like to bring back to our program, and hopefully, we can gather up some of these big-time scholarships.”

Grayson played football for the Tigers and attended Boise State, where he was a running back in the late-1960s. According to a 1961 Sports Illustrated article recognizing Grayson's talents as a 12-year-old star tailback for the McKeesport Little Tigers, he was given the nickname Puddin after his favorite dessert.

“My, that was a long time ago,” Grayson said with a laugh.

His emotion was captured in his voice. He spoke of his hometown and how he has longed to be a positive influence — even now — on the young people of the city and the players he'll coach.

“The appeal of this coaching job is those kids,” Grayson said. “When I look at them, that was me. I was 16, 14, 15. I've been on every street they've been on, every alley. I've been there.”

Kiss said there were about 30 applicants for the job and that he would have been comfortable with any one of the 5 or 6 finalists.

“There were a lot of good candidates that we felt could do the job,” Kiss said. “At the end of the day, what coach Grayson brings to the table for these guys comes from on the court and off the court. They'll see that, once they get rolling.”

Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at dmackall@tribweb.com.

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