Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part series examining Morthland College’s journey in offering athletic programs for the 2012-13 school year.
CARBONDALE — Sipping a cup of coffee at a local restaurant, first-year Morthland College men’s basketball coach Rich Herrin spoke passionately about returning to college coaching for the first time since 1998.
“I like to coach, that’s the first thing,” Herrin said. “I enjoy the game of basketball. I’ve seen more basketball games since I’ve been retired than probably anyone in Southern Illinois.”
The former Benton, Okawville and SIU coaching legend spent a brief stint at Marion High School before retiring after the 2006-07 season. In five seasons with the Wildcats, he went 61-84 with only two winning campaigns — a 20-11 run in 2004-05 and a 15-14 record in his final season.
But retirement lasts a long time, and it wasn’t long before the coaching urge struck again. The 79-year-old was named the Patriots’ head coach Feb. 20, his first college job since winning 225 games in 13 seasons with SIU from 1985-98.
“I like a challenge,” Herrin said. “You don’t think the job at Southern was a great challenge to me when I took the job?”
Division II NCCAA has no age requirements, with athletes being required to maintain a 2.0 GPA for two consecutive semesters while maintaining a 12-hour class load. Thus, Herrin’s first recruiting class is a mix of younger and older players.
Matt Weeks is 24 years old, Will Carmichael is 26 and Danny Alstat, the team’s oldest player, is 28. Roby Boatright and Zach LaBuwi are 21, while Nick Bonner will be 20 by the time the season begins.
“These guys are mature,” said Bonner, who was the first player recruited by Herrin. “They’ve lived a little bit and work hard at things. They know if you want something, you’ve got to work for it.”
Bonner was the men’s basketball manager at John A. Logan College. The decision to transfer to a two-year-old school with a new athletic program did not come easy.
“At first, I was wary about it,” Bonner said. “It was a new school, and I prayed about it. It was a Christian school, and that’s how I was raised.”
Establishing identity is a tough task for any head coach building a program from the ground up. Morthland bowling coach Joe LaBotte has just three bowlers — Todd Pizanowski, Alan Petrowich and Antonio Sanchez — signed for the 2012-13 season, a bit of a surprise considering the growth of high school bowling in the region.
“The first step is getting set up and learning the process of the different competitions we are involved in,” said LaBotte. “The recruiting process has been difficult at times and I have a full-time job myself.”
The story of men’s athletics at Morthland gets a bit more interesting when you consider Athletic Director Jay Bernhardt does double-duty as men’s golf head coach. With the demands of both positions, it is becoming increasingly less likely to see one person managing both at the college level.
“I feel overwhelmed daily,” Bernhardt said. “The people in the administration building do a great job. If I need anything, I send an email or a text, and they get right on it.”
Bernhardt’s five-year plan for the college is to offer 15 sports by the 2017-18 school year. Herrin’s return to coaching bumped up the timetable on men’s basketball, while baseball could be offered as soon as 2013-14. Bowling looks to be headed toward co-ed status for now, with the ultimate goal of separate men’s and women’s teams.
“The degrees are going to start becoming more available and it really seems like kids are more certain on their future plans,” LaBotte said. “One of my kids wants to be a welder. He’s a great player, but welding is not something Morthland offers.”
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