FeaturesThe Art of Coaching
Teaching skills, character and heart, UNH coaches build teams—and players.
by Allen Lessels '76
Time was running short in yet another big football game at Cowell Stadium. Lose, and just about any chance the University of New Hampshire had of making the playoffs was gone. Win, and hope remained. The problem was, the Wildcats were trailing Richmond. The offense had done little and had much to do.
Quarterback Chris Bresnahan '96 connected with one pass. Then another. The coaches in charge of UNH's offensive gameplan sent in plays, and Bresnahan, he, well, he ignored the coaches. Bill Bowes, the head football coach, in turn waved off his assistant coaches. Bowes liked what he was seeing.
The quarterback completed another pass. Then he hit Al Barrow '97 for a touchdown; UNH tied the game and won it with the extra point.
Bresnahan came of age as a football player that day. At the same time, assistant coach Sean McDonnell '78 picked up a coaching pointer from his boss. Bowes took a read on what was happening on the field and let the player play. Bresnahan had learned his lessons well, and it was time for the coaches to watch.
It is nearly three years later and Sean McDonnell, then the shunned offensive coordinator and now the new head coach, still gets excited as he rattles off details of the game.
"It was great watching Bres take the team down the field," McDonnell says. "He couldn't have done that two or three years before if there was $2 million dollars down there in the end zone. Watching kids get better and grow, that's the best part of the job. You couldn't pay me enough to do another job."
This kind of dedication to coaching is not unusual at UNH. Last year, UNH coaches won nine coach-of-the-year awards, including swimming coach Joshua Willman, who has won five such awards in the last seven years, and track and cross-country coach Jim Boulanger '75, with 13 awards in the last 16 years.
UNH teams are earning honors as well. Women's ice hockey won the national championship in 1998, and men's ice hockey played in the national title game for the first time last season. Other conference champions last year included field hockey, whose coach, Robin Balducci '85, has earned two coach-of-the-year awards, and women's volleyball, which chalked up its first undefeated conference season. Gymnastics is a consistently successful sport: coach Gail Goodspeed has led the team to four conference championships during her 21 years at UNH.
Behind these success stories are coaches who devote countless hours not only to leading their current team but also to recruiting the next one.
When asked why they coach, they talk about how a coach must love to work with kids, and have a passion for teaching and competing. Asked how they coach, they say coaches must see the big picture of scheduling and recruiting and molding a team. They and their assistants do the hidden detail work of drilling the skills. They communicate, motivate—and demand.
Much is expected of UNH's athletic teams and their coaches, especially in the highest-profile sports. Here's a look at just a few of them.Karen Kay
Women's ice hockey
There is a small plaque on Karen Kay's busy desk. It reads: "Expect to Win."
Like most coaches, Kay does. And she expects her players to do the same. That's part of the reason that the Wildcat women were right back training and conditioning with only a two-week break after they lost in the national championship game last season. It's part of the reason why her players were expected to work out six days a week during the summer and regularly fax back a workout record.
It's also one of the reasons that UNH will, as usual, be considered one of the pre-season favorites in the ECAC. On the flip side, it's also a reason that Kay has trouble letting go of last season.
Kay and other coaches talk of raising the bar. A team accomplishes one goal, and sets a new one. The bar doesn't get any higher than when Kay's Wildcats won the women's ice hockey national championship in 1998. Naturally, Kay wanted to win another one last year.
Harvard got in the way, with a 6-5 overtime victory. Two years, two appearances in the title game? Excuse Kay if that gives her little solace. "To come that close, you really feel like there's something you could have done differently as a coach," she says. "I'll always be frustrated by that. You feel responsible."
Kelly McManus '02, a hockey forward, disagrees. "I'm a strong believer that a coach can only do so much," she says. "We were prepared to play that game. She can only do so much. She can't go out there and win it for us."
Kay agrees with that. She has been known to tell her players that she can't go over the boards and on the ice for them. "Yeah, that's one of her famous ones," McManus says. "We know that one very well."
Kay laughs. There was the time last season when her team was struggling a bit and Kay found that same quote in the paper, said by Boston Bruins coach Pat Burns. She promptly copied and distributed it to back up her point.Page: 1 2 3 4 5 Next>
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