WASHINGTON — The only choice and perfect choice for the job.
That's how Washington athletics director Herb Knoblauch reacted to the naming Monday of Eric Schermerhorn as the school's new boys basketball coach.
Schermerhorn replaces his close friend and mentor Kevin Brown, who died June 11 at age 50 after a 10-month fight against brain cancer.
Brown coached the Panthers for 15 seasons, winning more than 300 games.
Schermerhorn was an assistant coach on Brown's staff for 14 years — the first two as a volunteer — before being named interim coach in early February when Brown took a medical leave of absence.
His appointment as coach was approved Monday by the school board.
"I look at this new job as my next calling," Schermerhorn said. "It's an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the young men on our team, just like Kevin did."
Knoblauch said Schermerhorn, 42, is the right person to guide the Panthers through what will be a challenging season, not just because the young and inexperienced Panthers were 9-22 last year and they don't have any seniors on their 2019-20 roster.
"First of all, we're extremely lucky to have an assistant coach of Eric's caliber on our boys basketball staff," Knoblauch said. "With his knowledge, experience and work ethic, he could be a head coach at any high school our size.
"Our boys basketball program will have the same philosophy and accountability for players and parents. That won't change with a different coach. High school sports are all about what's best for student-athletes, and having Eric as our boys basketball coach is best for Washington."
Schermerhorn said he's ready for what's ahead this coming season.
"There will be a lot of firsts, and some nights will be extremely emotional," he said. "Our guys know the coaches are always available to talk to them. We'll get through this together."
Brown's final game on the bench last season was a Feb. 1 loss to Dunlap.
"I'll never know how Kevin was able to coach that night with the way he was feeling," Schermerhorn said.
The Panthers stunned then-Mid-Illini Conference leader Morton 49-48 on Feb. 2. Brown started his medical leave and Schermerhorn was named interim coach Feb. 4.
Schermerhorn went 4-4 in his eight games as interim coach.
"To be honest, those first few games as interim coach were a blur," Schermerhorn said.
There was clarity by the time late February rolled around, Schermerhorn said, and that has continued this summer thanks to the players' hard work on the floor.
Schermerhorn and Knoblauch both are confident the coaching transition will be as smooth. A big reason for that is the trust Brown had in his staff.
"Kevin empowered his assistant coaches," Schermerhorn said.
Knoblauch called Brown a very savvy person, even as he was battling cancer.
"Kevin knew what he was facing, and he wasn't going to let whomever eventually took over for him as coach fail," Knoblauch said.
Knoblauch praised the Washington boys basketball coaching staff for how it rallied around Brown last season.
"They took on a lot of duties behind the scenes, which allowed Kevin to coach with dignity," he said.
Brown was a 2018 inductee into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. His high school basketball coaching career spanned 22 seasons, including stints at Bloomington Central Catholic and Eaton (Colo.) before coming to Washington.
He was 323-91 at Washington in his first 14 years there and he led the Panthers to a fourth-place finish in the 2008 Class 3A state tournament.
Brown was a physical education teacher at Washington.
Schermerhorn teaches U.S. history at the school. He was an assistant boys basketball coach at Dunlap for one season before joining the Washington staff.
Steve Stein can be reached at (248) 224-2616 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.