South/East Xtra: 'Favorite son' returns as McKeesport coach

Share with others:

Print Email Read Later

McKeesport has its "Puddin" back.

The excitement of that has circulated through the McKeesport community since one of the city's favorite son's -- now 66 years young -- was hired as the high school's new boys basketball coach last month.

Gerald "Puddin" Grayson, a youth league and high school football legend in the Mon Valley, has made his newest coaching stop at the same place where he made his first. Grayson was a seventh and eighth-grade boys coach in 1973.

Since then, his coaching resume includes guiding the McKeesport girls -- led by WPIAL all-time great Swin Cash -- to a WPIAL title in the late 1990s, and most recently taking the Elizabeth Forward boys to the WPIAL quarterfinals last season.

For a man who has spent his entire life living in McKeesport -- minus a four-year stay at Boise State for his college days -- the opportunity to coach a team that has long been so dear to him is a dream come true.

"We have serious tradition here at McKeesport," Grayson said. "The tradition between basketball and football since back in the day, that made me say, 'I really want this job.'"

McKeesport's two most high-profile coaches are now 1967 graduates of the school. Grayson and football coach George Smith were football captains their senior season.

Grayson takes over for Corey Gadson, who resigned after 11 seasons at the helm. Gadson helped McKeesport reach the postseason nine times. The Tigers were the WPIAL runners-up in 2006. Only two coaches -- Neenie Campbell and Dan Pacella -- won more at McKeesport.

The move from Elizabeth Forward to McKeesport was unexpected, Grayson said. He went 32-15 in two seasons at Elizabeth Forward and was intent on continuing his coaching career there.

That was until McKeesport residents began reaching out to him not long after Gadson resigned, encouraging Grayson to apply for the job. The more Grayson thought about it, he was overcome with the feeling of "Home, sweet home."

"I was set on staying at EF and retiring there. It was kind of like my second home," Grayson said. "I liked it there, but the chance to be back home overcame that. If it was anywhere else, I probably would have stayed at EF. But this is my hometown."

Grayson put his name on the map as a youngster when he was a star running back for the McKeesport Little Tigers, a youth program that was considered one of the best in the country. How well-regarded was Grayson? Well, he was signing autographs at the age of 12.

After fine high school and college careers, Grayson returned to McKeesport and began coaching football. Soon after, however, Grayson decided to give basketball coaching a try. More than four decades later, he's still doing it.

Perhaps Grayson's top coaching achievement came in 1998 when he led the McKeesport girls to their first WPIAL title. He resigned after that season, but returned to coach the Duquesne girls five seasons later. Grayson took another coaching break a few years after that, and then resurfaced at Elizabeth Forward in 2012.

Grayson was a teacher at McKeesport from 1972-2003. Since then, he's served as a mentor in the school district.

One of Grayson's top priorities is having his players exhibiting good character on and off the court. An interesting tidbit on Grayson: He said he's never been given a technical foul in his entire coaching career.

"Character, first and foremost, has to be there," Grayson said. "You have to be walking through the community being a good person. Hug your mother. Hug your brothers and sisters. Hug your teammates. On this particular team, we're hugging."

Grayson said his coaching staff includes his son, Jamie, as well as Troy Blackwell and John Harper.

Grayson's hiring, of course, has been well accepted by the McKeesport community.

"The majority of people I come in contact with, especially the older people, are excited because they know I'm going to get them to come back to games," he said. "A lot of my former players will be back. Basically the whole town.

"Nothing against Corey. He's one of my best friends. But I can't remember the last time a McKeesport guy has been [boys basketball] coach."

Join the conversation:

Commenting policy | How to report abuse
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.
Commenting policy | How to report abuse


Create a free PG account.
Already have an account?