THURSDAY, JANUARY 05, 2012
Taking the reins: Moving to new school not easy on coaches
Community involvement is high on coach Guy Van Arsdale's list. Play Video
Community involvement is high on coach Guy Van Arsdale's list.
Guy Van Arsdale, as many coaches have, has been down this road before.

And, merely because the location changes, the general plan of action doesn’t as he steps into a men’s lacrosse program new to him and now but days away from its new season – his first as head coach at Jacksonville University.

Taking over a program isn’t the easiest task around and begins during that dance between the school and coach known as the interview. Once the coach is named there are myriad functions and processes that need attention.

“There is a vetting process (in the interview),’’ Van Arsdale, who has a 135-57 record, said. “What I saw here at JU was tremendous potential. Being such a young program there are still a lot of things that need to be established and ground work that needs to be done, but I see a real solid foundation.’’

Among his many likes: academic opportunity, location and weather (and the ability to practice outdoors in the spring).

“The bottom line is any program is only as good as your recruiting potential,’’ Van Arsdale, who previously took over programs at Rochester Institute of Technology and Colorado College, said.

Once behind the head coaching desk, Van Arsdale said he begins to implement his plan, which, of course, must remain flexible to handle unforeseen circumstances.

“It is fluid in that there are always things you didn’t know about or see or understand fully, which is impossible to know in an interview process,’’ he said.

“There are a lot of factors that go into deciding who the best candidate is for our head coaching positions,’’ JU Director of Athletics Alan Verlander said. “ One of those factors we look for in the interviewing process is how a new coach would come into the program and how a coach’s plan would work within the scope of what we do at JU. The plan Guy laid out married well with our goals for the program and has been the plan he has executed since taking over.’’

Van Arsdale begins his work at his new school simply. He learns as much as he can as soon as he can.

“Observing, questioning, meeting people, understanding where you are, what the processes are, what the strengths and weaknesses are,’’ he said. “All of those things, from the institution right through to the program. The biggest part is building relationships, especially internally to start. You really want to connect with the young men who are in the program; you want to connect with the other people in the department and on campus to build those relationships so you can be effective in the position you’re in and it also helps in your assessment as you get other people’s opinions, not that they will become your own, but you learn from those and get perspective.

“The relationship building and fact finding naturally lead to assessment as to ‘where are we and how far is that from where we want to get to’. Once you know where you are and where you want to go, then comes the planning part and how you’re going to get there. I think we’re in that stage.’’

While attending to all that, Van Arsdale also begins instilling his criteria and goals.

For example, a big part of the men’s lacrosse program will be player development.

“We’re going to find young men who are good athletes, who are good students who want to be in this climate and we’re going to coach their tails off and help them develop into being great Division I lacrosse players,’’ he said.

Goals, and there are many, also are being laid out.

“For us in the short term is being a major player in our conference and competing for a MAAC (Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) championship,’’ he said. “That will always be a focus in this program because there’s a lot that comes with that.

“Winning a MAAC championship means going to the NCAA Tournament and that’s a goal,’’ he continued. “I wouldn’t say that’s the ultimate goal but it certainly is one of our larger goals. Once you get to the NCAA Tournament, anything can happen. I think we have to get to the NCAA Tournament and establish that habit before we talk about winning the NCAA Tournament.

Those are the kinds of progressions we are looking to take.’’

And the ultimate goal? There are several.

“You have different goals in different realms, Van Arsdale said. “You have goals in how you want your student-athletes to perform in the class room and then you have goals of how you want them to perform on the field and to be contributing members of the community they live in. We want to excel in all those areas because I don’t think one precludes the other, they’re intertwined. If you’ve got it together in the class room, you generally have it together on the field too.’’

Van Arsdale is convinced he has the players to do it.

“We found a group of young men who are hungry to be better,’’ he said. “I think a lot of the guys realize they aren’t where they need to be and they’re looking for ways to get there. The best thing we’ve found since we’ve been here are the young men in the program.’’

And, with every new season comes excitement, trepidation and nervousness. The first season those things are magnified.

“I think there’s a good, healthy combination of all those things,’’ he said. “There’s always some trepidation of do we have enough time to play and whether you do or not doesn’t matter, you’re going to play a game so we’ve got to get ready.’’

- Jim Nasella