Editorial:

Northwest College’s coaching carousel troubling

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Northwest College has faced plenty of challenges over the past few years. Budget cuts, declining enrollment, the elimination of programs and the future of the campus’ largest residential hall are just a few of the ongoing issues NWC administrators are working diligently to correct as the calendar turns to 2019.

But last week’s resignation of women’s head soccer coach Bobby Peters after just one season brings to the forefront another issue that affects not just the school, but a community of NWC sports fans: The Trappers have a coaching problem.

The last two years have been unprecedented in terms of turnover in the college’s athletic department, and finding permanent replacements for outgoing coaches has been difficult. Potential students interested in continuing their athletic pursuits post-high school are exploring options outside of Park County. At the start of 2017, the head coach for each of the school’s seven sports programs had been with the Trappers for at least five years, and the success of each team bore out that commitment.

But the departure of head men’s and women’s soccer coach Rob Hill in March of 2017 began a wave of coaches leaving for other opportunities. Volleyball coach Shaun Pohlman and women’s basketball coach Janis Beal, both coming off successful seasons in 2017-18, left Powell for four-year schools, while men’s basketball coach Brian Erickson stepped down last fall to become NWC’s athletic director. Due to timing issues, all three programs entered the 2018-19 academic year with interim coaches at the helm, as initial coaching searches were unable to find suitable long-term replacements. 

Things have been even murkier with the Trappers’ soccer programs. Peters was hired last spring as the permanent women’s coach, replacing 2017 interim coach Jessica Lum. With the sudden departure of men’s soccer coach Stan Rodrigues just weeks before practices were to begin for the 2018 season, NWC asked Peters lead both programs, with the intent of opening a nationwide search at the end of the season. With Peters’ resignation, the college will now have to conduct searches to fill both positions; when the soccer teams take the pitch in fall of 2019, it will be with their fourth head coach in as many seasons.

Three more searches are pending to fill spots on the volleyball and basketball teams — interim volleyball coach Bethany Conde chose not apply for the permanent position, and women’s and men’s basketball coaches Camden Levett and Dawud Abdur-Rahkman are coaching on an interim basis.

Longtime Trapper wrestling coach Jim Zeigler and rodeo coach Del Nose are the only two veterans on staff.

While coaching issues and operating costs within the athletic department may seem minor compared to budget cuts and student housing, sports continue to play a vital part in the college experience. Benefits such as regional and international exposure and added revenue, coupled with the sense of community and school spirit a student finds in the athletic programs of their chosen school, helps to solidify small schools like NWC as cornerstones of their respective communities. When prospective student athletes see a program in disarray, it should come as no surprise that those students might take their talents elsewhere.

NWC is not entirely to blame for the exodus of coaches — two-year schools are notorious for being a stepping stone for young, talented coaches as they begin their careers. NWC officials are also limited by the number of scholarships they are able to offer in a given year.

But at some point, a program needs stability. Winning cures a lot of ills, and NWC needs to show prospective athletes that they can attain what they are looking for as a Trapper, on and off the courts, mats and playing fields. Here’s hoping the next group of coaches will make a commitment to making the Trappers a success.

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