Ask any successful head coach why his or her program is strong year in and year out and you’ll hear a number of reasons why. First and foremost, teams are not contending for tournament spots or titles without a certain level of talent. Remember, these are coaches we’re speaking of, not miracle workers. Secondly, there is a culture of excellence which permeates the entire program. Standards are established at a young age from the time youngsters are first introduced to the program.
Aiding along the way are the often unheralded assistant coaches, most who toil behind the limelight, yet whose contributions are nonetheless important to the overall success of the program. Most times assistant varsity coaches will serve in a dual capacity and head a sub-varsity program, as well. Assistants run the gamut of the young aspiring coach looking to make a name for themselves, hoping to one day land a head coaching gig of their own. Others just enjoy teaching the game, content at the level they’re at, and don’t want to deal with the pressures associated with being a head varsity coach. There are many who serve on their respective coaching staffs, who at one time or another worked as a head coach, still enjoy being involved in the game, but don’t want the added responsibilities of being a head coach.
So what are the criteria for being a top-notch assistant coach? First and foremost, a consistent message needs to be communicated to everyone throughout the program. A good assistant coach should be more than just a ‘yes man’, in fact it is good to have disagreements from time to time as a staff. If a head coach has quality assistant coaches, a smart coach will put away the Napoleon complex and listen. Yes, coaches can have inflated egos if you aren’t aware. Having said that, when speaking with the players, the same message must be reiterated throughout the program.
Here are some more ideas to ponder: how well does the assistant or sub-varsity coach communicate with players? Does the coach provide constructive criticism or coach out of frustration? Is the overall experience positive for the players? Of course, any program is going to have attrition in numbers from the freshman to senior year. If a squad is losing potentially good players on a regular basis, one has to wonder what kind of experience is being had at the sub-varsity level?
How well does the assistant or sub-varsity coach teach fundamental skills, particularly in the area of man-to-man defense? While teams should strive to win at any level in high school, the highest priority should be to prepare players to play at the varsity level. Also, is the sub-varsity coach mirroring for the most part what is going on at the varsity level or is he or she on their own agenda?
In my travels throughout the season, I’ve had the opportunity to watch various staffs interact, as well as witness a number of sub-varsity games. There are a number of assistant coaches who I’ve noticed do yeoman’s work for their programs.
Starting on the boys side, an up and coming rising star in the coaching ranks is Josh Boucher from the state champion Old Town Coyotes. Not far removed from his playing days, Coach Boucher gets his kids to play hard and commands their respect. Of particular note is the great rapport he has with his charges. Coupled with assistant coach Mark Graffam, the Coyotes have put together quite a staff head coach Brian McDormand can call upon.
At MDI, junior varsity coach Matt Umphrey consistently puts out strong clubs. His teams are also solid in their man-to-man defense, which gets them ready to contribute at the varsity level. Matt is always level-headed on the sidelines and really seems to have the respect of his players.
Foxcroft Academy’s Tom Nason has served as a longtime assistant coach in football and basketball. Coach Nason takes a low-key approach and it’s obvious he cares deeply about his players.
Bucksport has been to the tournament the past two seasons. Josh Tripp has two outstanding assistant coaches in Larry Deans and Mike Cowing at his side. Both Deans and Cowing are former varsity head coaches at the school. Cowing, who coaches the junior varsity team, is an outstanding communicator with his players. Never one to scream and shout, he is the consummate teacher of the game.
When a coaching staff is together for a long time and meshes well, the difference it makes in a program is astronomical. Take the staff at Camden Hills. Assistant coaches Paul McDonald and Tom Stammen have been right by head coach Jeff Hart’s side for an awful lot of wins and titles along the way.
Not too many schools can match the staffs Hermon and Caribou high school’s have put together. Both have outstanding head coaches in their own right. At Hermon, coach Mark Reed can turn to a man with over 550 varsity victories and eight gold balls to his credit in his father, Roger Reed. In addition, Charlie Colson who coaches the junior varsity club was a head coach at Bangor Christian. Caribou’s Chris Casavant also has a longtime Aroostook County basketball fixture at his side with his father Bill Casavant. His junior varsity team is coached by former Fort Fairfield head coach Shawn Manter.
The tallest coaching staff has to be at Presque Isle, with former Caribou High School standout Ron McAtee coaching the JV’s. The father and son combination of Dave and Greg Whitaker assist head coach Terry Cummings with the varsity. They all have a great level of enthusiasm and have done a nice job developing their players throughout the program.
At Brewer High School, coach Clayton Blood can turn to his trusty assistants in veteran coach Tim Thornton and junior varsity coach Phil Pushard. Coach Thornton, the former girls varsity basketball coach at Hermon, lends a great deal of expertise and professionalism to the staff. Always positive with kids, he is an outstanding communicator. Is there anyone better with kids than Phil Pushard? He is someone that can lighten the moment with a joke, he might be one of the funniest people I’ve been around, yet at the same time hold the kids respect. By the way, the retired state trooper was quite imposing in the uniform.
Does anyone bleed Winslow black and orange more than Jim Poulin? Most of you are aware of his story and decades struggle with Multiple Sclerosis. He decided to give up football this past season but stayed on the basketball sidelines for head coach Jared Browne. He was there doing what he does best, inspiring, motivating, and just caring about the youth of Winslow.
Moving onto girls basketball, Bill McVicar has served in a valuable role as assistant coach at Calais High School under Dana Redding. McVicar, whose daughter Madison is a standout guard on the team is as personable as they come when dealing with coaches. He knows the game inside an out and is an extremely important reason for their success.
A fixture at Presque Isle High School is assistant varsity coach Ralph Michaud. Along with JV coach Tim Mccue, Jeff Hudson has two knowledgeable and loyal people to turn to on the bench. When Hudson takes a player out of the game, you often will see Michaud offering encouragement, praise, or constructive criticism on the bench.
Finally, staying close to home, Mike Webb has established quite the coaching staff at John Bapst. Each coach brings something different to the table but they all mesh well together. Assistant coach David Paul, a former varsity boys coach at Orono and Brewer high schools, has tremendous rapport with the girls. By the way, everyone gets poked at, self included, with Paul’s good natured ribbing. D.P., as he’s affectionately known, has as good of people skills as I’ve seen. Junior Varsity coach Harold Williams, also a former head coach, having coached the boys at Central as well as the Husson women’s team, is a tremendous teacher of the game. In watching his team play, they really emphasize the fundamentals needed to compete at the next level. Always even keeled, the players greatly respond to his tutelage.
Assistant coach Bobby Campbell, a standout player at Calais High School and Husson University hall of famer, is a great resource for Webb as well. Dennis Whitney coaches the freshman team. Whitney is patient when teaching the game and has a bundle of energy.
As we wrap up the 2013-14 basketball season, take time to recognize the efforts given by many who work tireless hours for the betterment of kids and their programs: the assistant coaches.