Where were you born and raised? In Brunswick, Ga. I’m the son of a college professor, and my mother is a math teacher-turned CPA. Ten years ago she got a job as the South Georgia Conference director of administrative services. She’s basically the CFO. They’re Dan and Miriam Hagan. We moved to Statesboro in 1979 when my dad began teaching at Georgia Southern University. He taught there 25 years. Now he teaches basic medical sciences at Mercer School of Medicine.
What was your church in Statesboro? Pittman Park United Methodist Church.
Who else is in your family? My brother is Kirk. My wife is Julie, and our sons are Sam and Jack. I met Julie at her church when I was in Atlanta working as a basketball coach. It’s Northbrook United Methodist in Roswell. I worked with the youth there. Interesting story about that church: It started in 1979 by a man named John Simmons. He was going around knocking on doors and he knocked on this one door and the father said, “No thank you; we already have a church.” As he was shutting the door, John put his foot on it because he noticed a piano in the living room. The owner of the house was Julie’s dad, Larry. He’s been playing the piano at Northbrook now for 32 years. Julie’s family was charter members.
Where’d you go to college? The Georgia Institute of Technology. I enrolled as a marketing major but my mom told everybody I was majoring in basketball. I wanted to be a basketball coach. Bobby Cremins was there then. I worked my way up from a guy who had no job to the video manager to head manager for the team. I got a full athletic scholarship my third year and I got to travel everywhere. I worked there for five seasons. I wanted to be a coach and change the world.
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How? One player at a time, pouring my life into players. Cremins had this thing about wanting great players but also getting them to be total students. He’s a devout Catholic. I’ll never forget one of the moments from my first year there, the first time I encountered him. I grew up Methodist in south Georgia. I went into the locker room and I said, “Coach, you got something on your forehead.” He said, “Those are ashes, you nitwit.” I probably haven’t missed an Ash Wednesday service since then. All through college, I corresponded with John Wooden, the legendary UCLA coach. He died last year. After the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta, I had a month before classes started. It was my dream to go meet John Wooden. I got in touch and said I was going to be in California anyway, which was a lie, but I didn’t want him to think I was a stalker. I got to spend four hours in his house. He’s the example of athletics done right.
How did you go from basketball coach to pastor of Epworth? In high school, I had a sense of God’s call. I thought I could be a basketball coach or a Methodist minister. My grandfather, Carlton Carruth, was a Methodist minister in south Georgia and he was active in civil rights in Albany and Tifton. He had a twin brother, Edward, also a Methodist minister. The Carruth twins spoke out on important issues when it wasn’t popular to do so and it hurt them. My grandmother, Augusta, did too. I would say they were activists. Anyway, I wanted to have great influence on the lives of young men through basketball. Youth athletics is so often messed today up but nonetheless, volunteers and coaches have great influence. After graduating from Tech, I coached college basketball for two years in Brunswick and Atlanta and it was great. At the end of two years, I then had finished my MBA and I asked myself what degree I wanted next. I had worked on the high school level, college level, with the Atlanta Hawks and with the Olympic Dream Team in 2000. At the end of every week, the highlight wasn’t the big win or landing a star recruit, but working with the youth at church. That was where I was most affirmed in my being. ... I’ve been here since June.
You had a big funeral this week for Ben Burns. What did he mean to your church? He was a member for more than 40 years. He was a giant in this church, because of the little things. He taught Sunday school; he was active every week; and he used to be a youth worker. He taught kids to ski on Lake Martin. He believed in this church, his family and Jesus, but not necessarily in that order. He typified the best of Epworth.
Watch a brief video clip of Rev. Hagan at Ledger-Enquirer.com/video