It’s probably not the way you’d go about forming a highly successful coaching staff. In fact, it was more likely to lead to disaster, but somehow the three coaches charged with guiding the Regina girls basketball team have not only made it work, but also prosper.
Clark Anderson was a first-year graduate student at the University of Iowa and about to enter his second season as an assistant to Brian Joens when Joens resigned at the end of September 2010. About a month later, Anderson was the new head coach.
“It was a big step, but that’s why it’s been so important for all three of us to work together,” Anderson said about his staff. “Everybody has a part to play.”
Anderson wasn’t new to the game, having played on Linn-Mar’s 2004 state championship team with luminaries such as Jason Bohannon. He also had spent a year as the student manager for the Iowa women’s basketball team. And he had the advantage of knowing the Regals from the year before.
But being the head coach is a different gig.
After Anderson’s hiring, softball coach Jon Prottsman told athletic director Chet Wisniewski that he would be willing to help. Prottsman had retired after a long career coaching girls and boys basketball and softball at HLV and other schools before becoming Regina’s softball coach in 2007.
The third member of the staff, former Iowa player Krista VandeVenter, came on board in a similarly casual way.
“I think we were playing a pick-up game one night at Carver, and Clark was just like, ‘Would you be interested in coaching?'” she said. “I said, ‘Well, yeah. I’ll think about it.’ I was just out of college and didn’t have a job and didn’t have a whole lot going on.”
The three of them formed a staff just barely before practice was scheduled to start. Yet they said dividing responsibilities was not difficult.
“I think it just came naturally,” VandeVenter said. “Position-wise, I work with the posts.”
“I work with the short, fat kids,” Prottsman joked. “Because that’s what I am.”
Yes, Prottsman, the man who looks like he walked out of a ’50s movie about no-nonsense high school coaches, has a wry, self-deprecating sense of humor to go along with his years of experience.
“I just clap and applaud and cheer them on,” Anderson cracked. “No, I work with the forwards and a little bit of post work. We have our responsibilities, but we’re also accepting of each other’s kind of wandering over. Everybody ends up chipping in.”
The staff didn’t have to go through a battle to decide on a style of play either.
“We kind of fell into it from what the program had done in the past and with the girls that we have and how they’ve grown up playing,” Anderson said. “They play hard defense, they’re long and athletic and have good chemistry, so we try to give an appropriate amount of encouragement and structure. But we leave a lot of decision-making in the players’ hands.”
In-game management is collaborative as well.
“Most of the time I watch and (Krista) watches (during timeouts) and we talk with ourselves, and if I want to interject something, that’s perfectly OK,” Prottsman said.
Emotionally there is no “good cop” or “bad cop” among the three when it comes to feedback with players.
“It depends on the player, the situation, the day,” Anderson said. “It takes all three of us working together to get through sometimes. Jon does a great job of being persistent and keeping with whatever we’re trying to communicate. Sometimes it can be really difficult to get a message across, but he just does a nice job of finding an appropriate way of communicating what we’re trying to do.
“Krista is usually pretty reserved, but she’s very focused and has a great understanding of what’s going on. Whenever she says something, it’s important, and everybody listens.”
It goes without saying that VandeVenter provides a great role model for the players. She was an outstanding player at Iowa and is eighth in career rebounding. She has experienced the game at the top level of college and brings instant credibility.
“Basketball has been a part of my life forever, and it’s been fun to stay with it,” she said. “I enjoy it a lot. The high school level is perfect because we have a lot of fun with the girls. There’s not as much pressure as with a college program. I can kind of do it as a hobby, coming from it being my whole life in college.”
Anderson works for a law firm in Cedar Rapids, and VandeVenter works at a physical therapy group in Iowa City. Their initiation into prep coaching has been eased by the presence of a veteran like Prottsman, but it’s still been an eye-opener.
“Every day is something new,” Anderson said. “I might have underestimated just how rewarding this experience can be and especially getting to this point. It’s really, really gratifying to experience this and see the kids having such a great time and the parents jumping on board and the community kind of rallying.
“At the same time, we worked through some difficult times to get to this place, but that’s what makes it so rewarding. To go through the day-to-day trials and tribulations and keep with it, to keep trying, and for it to pay off.”