by John Ring
Mike Bailey was put on the hot seat last month.
The mens basketball coach for Sandburg College for the past nine years, Bailey was appointed as the womens coach as well. Nothing earthshaking there, except the Chargers womens team was the ranked #2 in the Nation and owned a 29-1 record and were heading into Regional competition.
Bailey and his assistants made the move. The mens team lost their first game into the Regionals; the women coasted and went on to finish 5th at the NJCAA Finals in Phoenix.
It was a tumultuous two weeks-- for Bailey, the Chargers, the entire college. Former Coach Matt Gibson's sudden resignation on the eve of the tournament did more than raise a few eyebrows. The timing was incredulous. The college was close-mouthed. Official statements released led to more questions asked and rumors spread.
Asked if the abrupt coaching change hurt the team, Athletic Director Steve Norton said, "The College was very pleased with the fifth place finish at the NJCAA Division II Tournament. This is the second highest finish in the history of the program. The College will continue to strive to offer a high quality program that is competitive at the national level."
Norton also dismissed that the changes will hurt recruiting. "The rccruiting prospects look very good at this point. I made contact with the majority of the recruits who had been previously contacted as soon as possible. It is also our hope that all of the freshman players will return to CSC for the next academic year."
Sandburg's AD didn't answer other questions, including what the college would try to do to prevent circumstances cropping up that have led to the last three womens coaches at Sandburg resigning.
Coach Bailey returned a phone call this past week. He's busy working the recruiting wars for the Chargers. "I know the Nationals are coming to Illinois next year [at ICC in East Peoria] but that's a long way down the road. Recruiting and the schedule for next year are the big things we're looking at now."
Zephyr: What was the biggest adjustment for you taking over the womens program on the eve of the National Tournament?
Bailey: "The big thing was getting them to understand how we did things. We had to learn about them quickly as to their strengths and weaknesses. Obviously, we had watched them play quite a few games but it was a matter of learning things as quickly as we could. What worked, what didn't work, adjustments that we had to make during the games."
You mentioned the team had to "understand" some things. Such as what?
"Just our style. How we approached the game, as a coaching staff. How we prepared for the game."
Your staff switches programs intact with the exception of adding Michelle Dennison. What specifically will she be involved in?
"She's a nice young gal. It's a real pleasure to have her on the staff. She's a great addition. Michelle will be involved a lot with recruiting but she's going to be involved with every aspect of the program."
What kind of damage did the coaching changes do to recruiting?
"We're getting a late start. We're trying to get at it the best we can. A lot of players are signing right now and we're behind. We'll have to scratch and claw to get back where we should be. But we're involved with a lot of players and I can't get specific on that. We're getting a chance to meet them."
Any chance some of the freshmen may leave after this season?
"You just don't know. We've got a verbal commitment with a few of them and I think over all, we have a good situation with the sophomores for next year. I think we're going to be o.k. there."
You took over a team that was something like 30-1 for the season. Were their interests the biggest thing in your mind when you took the team over?
"It was. We have watched these girls play for two years. They had put a lot of time and effort towards the college and we wanted them to go out on a good note. We wanted to put as much energy into the team as possible, their best interests were on the line. We knew what it would be like at the Nationals. It was hectic. There was the usual first-game jitters. It was a different setting but Phoenix did a great job in hosting the event."
Matt Gibson's recruiting style was to go after the best local players and then fan out. What's your philosophy?
"The same thing. Recruiting is the big thing. It doesn't matter what you do system-wise, it doesn't matter what you do motivation-wise, it doesn't matter what kind of defense you play. You have to have the players. You have to have solid leadership from the sophomores. So essentially, we're recruiting for this year and next year. You need quality people. There's going to be an adjustment periods".
To be honest, haven't even thought about it. A long ways away. Recruiting and scheduling are with us right now..