Once longtime Central High basketball coach Stan Eagleson told his team he was resigning Monday, the reaction was immediate.
"It's not good news, it's shocking news," said Central junior guard Jacob Timmermann, a starter on the Cougars' state championship team last year as a sophomore. "We all were just shocked, we didn't know what to say. We were all crying... even he was crying.
"He's the best coach in Southern Illinois."
The 56-year-old Eagleson called his players into a classroom and broke new the news during a team meeting. Central's school board was expected to accept Eagleson's resignation at its meeting Monday night.
Eagleson had contemplated retirement several times in recent seasons, but finally decided the time was right.
"That was probably the hardest part," Eagleson said of giving his players the news. "I told them it was no different than when you graduate. Every four years they come in and play and then they graduate. Me moving on is no different than that.
"I think the program is strong enough to survive the graduation of good players -- and it's strong enough to survive me moving on as the head coach."
Already in the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Eagleson finished his career with a record of 608-286 in 31 seasons at Central and Ramsey.
"I've only known Central basketball with Stan Eagleson, I haven't ever known anybody else," said Donny Petterson, a Central assistant coach for six seasons who also played for Eagleson in high school. "I don't think it will sink in until he's not introduced as the head coach of the Central basketball team.
"The basketball world's changed a little bit in Southern Illinois."
Eagleson's Central teams were 548-252 in 27 years. Since 2008 the Cougars were 146-22 with a 2A state title and a fourth-place finish, four sectional titles and five regional titles.
"Who in this area has had the successful run like his teams over the last few years?" Central Superintendent Kevin Meyer said of Eagleson, whose defending state championship team lost three starters and still reached the sectional championship. "Our kids know how to win. They know how to be successful because they've been well-prepared and well-taught."
Central didn't win a regional for the first 12 seasons Eagleson was the head coach.
However, the Cougars also were in a basketball hotbed of talent that included state champions Carlyle and Wesclin and perennial playoff contenders in Mater Dei and Nashville, among others.
Central was 22-10 this season, struggling with injuries and inconsistency a year after its state title. But the Cougars still won another regional title and reached the sectional championship before losing 58-53 to Teutopolis in double overtime .
"The guy's had a tremendous career here," Meyer said. "All the wins and all the state tournament appearances are one thing. But to make the type of impact he has made on our community and our kids and the students that come through here is outstanding.
"It's going to be a big void. When he retired form his teaching position, that was a big loss right there. To have that void in coaching is just as big."
How hard was it for Eagleson to put coaching in the rear-view mirror?
"I'd thought about (retiring) every year for probably the last 10 years," he said. "Even last night I was still debating it and this morning when I got up I finally made the decision.
"I talked with the coaching staff and with the administrators and of course my wife. They pretty well told me the same thing -- bottom line, it was my decision."
Eagleson picked up his 600th career win in January. His current coaching staff includes assistants Dave Thomas, Kurt Peters, Jeremy Shubert and Petterson.
"He told (former Central all-state pick) Brandon Book that tradition never graduates," Petterson said of Eagleson. "I always want to tell him tradition doesn't retire either. He's always going to be there -- and be the guy that put Central on the map for basketball."
Meyer said current coaches will be considered for the head coaching position. Outside applications will also be accepted.
Meyer's son, Ryan Meyer, played for Eagleson after transferring from Carlyle and also coached under him last season.
"Ryan got to play for two great coaches in Brad Weathers and Stan Eagleson," Meyer said, his voice dripping with emotion. "I wouldn't have wanted him to play for anybody else. There just aren't those kinds of guys around any more like Stan with the work ethic, the commitment, the passion and the time that he put into it."
Eagleson never really changed over the years, He kept the same calm, but firm demeanor whether he was winning regionals and sectionals or being eliminated in the first round.
His teams had back-to-back 7-win seasons from 1989-91, but from 2002 to 2012 Eagleson and the Cougars went to state five times and also brought a state championship trophy to Clinton County.
It almost seemed poetic justice that his hard work and dedication were being rewarded.
"I still enjoyed doing it and I wanted to go out that way," Eagleson said. "I didn't want to stay too long, I want to look back and I want my memories to be good."
While speculation on Eagleson's successor has begun, he trusts whoever inherits his position.
"One of the reasons I can feel good about walking away from it is we do have a veteran staff, there's four guys there with a lot of experience and they're all good coaches. Not a lot will change, especially between now and next November when the season starts."
Like hundreds of Central players over the year, Timmermann appreciates the impact Eagleson has made on his life.
"I don't think he even realizes how many people are going to miss him," Timmermann said.