May 14, 2013

Inside MD3: What Inspires These Coaches to Coach?

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Each of the eight coaches left in the Division III tournament has their own backstory relating to their inspiration for coaching. "There are times when I think I've gotten so old, I've forgotten a lot of the things I've learned through the years and kicked myself for not remembering them," said Cortland head coach Steve Beville.
© Kevin P. Tucker

There's a photo over the door in Dave Webster's office. It seems slightly out of place for the Dickinson head coach to have a picture of the 1991 Marymount (Va.) University lacrosse team on his wall, but it serves a special purpose for Webster.

Hired the summer before the start of the '91 campaign — the first-ever season for the Saints — Webster didn't have the luxury of a year-long run-up that a lot of programs are using these days. He had to hunt down players on the intramural fields in order to fill his short roster. That didn't matter, however, because Webster's first year as a head coach had an innocence that continues to act as a grounding influence for him, despite having an 18-0 record this spring.

"We had 18 guys and only three who had ever played before," Webster said of that Marymount team. "That picture just kind of reminds me of what it's all about. About the experience the guys are having together and competing and learning. It reminds me that no matter how big the game might be, it's still about having fun and playing the game."

The eight coaches in this year's NCAA Division III quarterfinals all have different experiences that have inspired them along the way. For Stevenson's Paul Cantabene and RIT's Jake Coon, the watershed moment came during their time spent as Division I assistant coaches.

"It was working for Coach [Tony] Seaman at Towson," Cantabene said. "He gave me the freedom to run the offenses over there and use my ideas. That gave me the real itch to continue in this profession, even when I wasn't making a lot of money. He was a great inspiration. To take a team that was so bad the year before, and then the next year mold them into a final four team, that was really a great feeling and a great inspiration to keep in the profession."

Coon was an assistant at UMass from 2005 through 2009, helping the Minutemen reach the national title game in 2006.

"Certainly the experience at UMass, going to the final four and the national championship, was something special as a coach," Coon said. "Just learning from those guys out there and the whole Division I world and how prepared they are, that whole experience in general was fantastic. I attribute that to where I am today. There's more to it than that, but that kind of gave me the tools I needed to succeed wherever I went. That one experience is driving me quite a bit."

Western New England's John Klepacki found similar resolve during his coaching apprenticeship, albeit at the Division III level.

"I go back to my experiences as a young coach and working with Jim Nagle at Oneonta and seeing the effort that he put in and the expectations that he put on me as an assistant coach, saying 'Let's provide a vision and let the athletes take over,'" Klepacki said. "That really created a blueprint that I was able to manipulate a little bit. Then I worked with Coach [Keith] Bugbee at Springfield to see the consistency that he brought."

Salisbury head coach Jim Berkman also found inspiration via another coach, but it wasn't when he was an assistant and it had nothing to do with lacrosse. Luke Kibling was Berkman's high school basketball coach, and also his phys-ed teacher when he was in kindergarten through third grade. His influence still lingers.

"He was just a great mentor and a guy who loved the game and was always in the gym," Berkman said. "It has a lot of to do with what I'm about — first guy in the gym, last guy to leave. In high school, he'd be there an hour before practice to open the gym and he'd stay there as long as anyone wanted to shoot after practice to help them get better. He knew that the guys who determined their own destiny were the guys who enjoyed the journey. Doing all the work on your own is the key to being successful. He always tried to provide the environment so that if there was somebody who had that drive and wanted to be that good, they would have that opportunity."

The key moment in Lynchburg head coach Steve Koudelka's career came not from an external source, but when he found out something about himself. In his first two seasons with the Hornets, Koudelka had losing records, including a 6-9 mark his second year in 1998. It caused him to take a long look in the mirror.

"I remember finishing that second season and asking myself, 'Is this what I should be doing? Am I any good at this?' Going into that summer, I made a commitment to myself and said 'I need to put more into it,'" Koudelka said. "I had to work a little bit harder and be a little bit smarter. I really had to try to create a vision for what we wanted this to be. I really had to compete against myself."

Things started to turn around.

"Fortunately we saw results the next year when we made the tournament for the first time in '99," continued Koudelka. "It just kind of proved that if you just work a little bit harder and do the things that I learned from Coach [Hank] Janczyk when I was coaching at Gettysburg, and other people that I watched in the profession, maybe there are good things that can happen. That was a nice turning point for me. To go from two losing records to making the tournament, it was, 'OK, maybe I can do this if I do a little bit more.' I still remember those days because it was an interesting point in my life. I loved it, and I thought I worked hard at it, but I needed to work a little bit harder."

Tufts' Mike Daly had been coaching players for several years prior the birth of his son, but watching his boy grow up — and the numerous challenges that raising a youngster holds — gave him a clearer vision into what his overall mission is.

"Having to interact with [my son] and parent him really put the light bulb on in my world," Daly said. "You have to tell the players a thousand times and they might just crack and listen to you. When you talk to [the players], they don't act like they are listening, but they are listening and we are making progress with these guys. It makes me appreciate where our players come from and where their parents came from. It's an important job extending all of the work that the parents put into these kids as I continue to work with them, grow with them, teach them and hold them accountable."

For Cortland head coach Steve Beville, the reasons are more nebulous.

"I think it is just an accumulation of learning through all of those years," Beville said. "The time at the three different schools that I've been at has helped me get to where I am now. I don't think there is one thing or two things. It's just a long time accumulating knowledge. There are times when I think I've gotten so old, I've forgotten a lot of the things I've learned through the years and have kicked myself for not remembering them."

The foundations for the eight coaches progress toward their ultimate goal is varied, but as we head into the quarterfinal round of the NCAA tournament, it's pretty clear that they've all worked out well.

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