January 15, 2013

Long Way Home: Brand Finds His Spot at TxState

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Mike Brand has coached at the non-varsity level as the head coach at Centenary (La.) as well as varsity stops with Misericordia and Brown, but he feels he's found a connection at Texas State. "I feel like this is the school I would have gone to," Brand said. "I can relate to this group of young men more than any of the others before."

The lacrosse coaching path between the Ivy League and the MCLA's Lone Star Alliance is not a well-worn one. And moving from Providence, R.I., for San Marcos, Texas — a little burg located in Hill Country between Austin and San Antonio — is a move equally as rare.

Mike Brand understands this.

"A lot of people may not see going from Brown to Texas State as a very logical move," conceded Brand, who was an assistant at Brown before taking over the head job with the Bobcats over the summer.

What made Brand, a Buffalo native, pack up and head to the Heart of Texas? It's really not that complicated. Brand got married this summer and his wife — a native of the area — got a teaching gig in Austin. So it only made sense that he would look at the Bobcats' opening after the departure of Chris Figueroa.

Brand knows the MCLA and non-varsity lacrosse. He was the head coach at Centenary (La.) College, which is going varsity in NCAA Division III this spring, when it was operating within the association. He's been a fixture at the MCLA championships for numerous seasons. He also knew that Texas State is just three years removed from an LSA championship and a berth at nationals.

Still, moving from a high-end NCAA Division I outfit to a spot in one of the MCLA's weakest conferences required some convincing. He found all he needed in the demographics of the Texas State players.

"It has a lot had to do with my background. I was raised blue-collar, public school, state school; so these kids kind of appealed to me," Brand said. "The underdog role is very apparent here at this school. Down the street you have the University of Texas, which is one of the biggest universities in the world and world renowned, and then we have these kids over here who are hard-working and dedicated, but don't get the notoriety. I felt like it was a school that I would attend if I was coming out of high school. It was a good fit."

One of Brand's biggest concerns with the Texas State job was the role that fraternities played on campus. In other parts of the country, especially in the lacrosse hotbeds, the Greek system is a bit player in a campus' social life. In Texas, it is the social life. And while Brand has nothing against frats, per se, he knows that they can cause distractions.

So what he heard from the players during his interview cinched it.

"When I asked them how many guys are in Greek like and if that was a big distraction, [senior middie] Clark Dansby looked at me and said, 'Coach, this is our fraternity,'" remembered Brand, who said he does have four players on the team in the Greek system.

"It was right then that I wanted to be a part of it. I tell the guys all the time that this is the best coaching fit I've ever had. Coaching at Centenary, Misericordia, Brown — they were places I learned a lot, they were just not places I would have wanted to go to school. That's not saying they are bad places to go, but I feel like this is the school I would have gone to. I can relate to this group of young men more than any of the others before."

Relating to the players is one piece of the puzzle, but it's still about having the horses to compete. While the Bobcats have second-tier talent and depth in the overall MCLA picture, they have plenty of juice to be a player in the race for the LSA title this spring.

Dansby has been a stud for the Bobcats since transferring in from St. Edward's in 2011, finishing with 30 goals and 11 helpers in '12. Andy Uhl (45g, 11a) was named the LSA Offensive Player of the Year last year as a sophomore aided by classmate Adrian Hanner (33g, 8a). With the exception of John Cavanagh (17g, 22a), Texas State returns everybody — including an intact defense — for Brand's first go-around.

The Bobcats finished the '12 campaign with a 7-10 mark, including an ugly, seven-game midseason skid that was punctuated by a road trip that saw them outscored 43-13 by Florida State and Central Florida. The season did end with a trip to the LSA finals, where the Bobcats lost by two goals to Texas after upending a promising SMU squad in the semis.

Brand credits Figueroa and Chris Park for setting the foundation of the current team and now it's his turn to continue the building process.

"The coaches before me did a good job recruiting, but they also had full-time jobs and it was kind of tough for them to put in all the travel," Brand said. "I'm just trying to take what they've done, sell the school, bring in some kids and prove to the recruits how much we work and how legit our program is. [Figueroa and Park] did a really good job and I'm just sort of picking up where they left off; just taking it to the next level."

Giving a nod to his predecessors is a savvy move, but Brand is very confident that he can reshape the Texas State program into a perennial visitor to the MCLA tourney, despite the presence of heavy hitters like Texas, SMU and TCU in the mix. Even though his time at Brown under coach Lars Tiffany feels like a thousand miles away — it's 2,000 actually — it has given Brand the skills to make Texas State a team on the come.

"I like to call my year at Brown a residency," Brand said. "It was a lot of long hours for not a lot of pay, but I learned a ton and I was absorbing as much knowledge as possible. Now I've got my own thing going and I'm really excited to get down here."

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