Thursday, August 25, 2011

Coach A takes a sabbatical at Grinnell, turns over the program to his son

This should be a very interesting season for the NCAA Division III men's team at Grinnell, the original System team. Coach David Arseneault, the man who came up with this dynamic style of play, plans to take a sabbatical to complete a book on how his creation has affected basketball. It should be a wonderful read, and if possible, I already would have placed my pre-order for this gem. He is traveling the country to visit with coaches who have used The System to great success, and he plans to tell their stories in the pages of his latest book. Good stuff, right?

Well, ordinarily you might feel as if that would leave a hole at the top for the Pioneers. Have no fear -- the program will be in great hands. Coach A's son, David N. Arseneault, has been named the interim replacement. It should be an exciting time for both of them as they work side-by-side to keep Grinnell near the top of the Midwest Conference.

The younger Arseneault starred as a point guard for his father, averaging a D-III-record 9.4 assists during his four-year career. He was a three-time finalist Bob Cousy Award for the top point guard in each NCAA division and set the all-division, single-game record with 34 assists against North Central University in a 151-112 victory Dec. 8, 2007. During his time as a player, the Pioneers compiled a record of 65-31 while winning two MWC championships. He has served as Coach A's assistant since graduating.

Even though the "official" point of transition will be the semester break over Christmas, the younger Arseneault will have total control for the entire season, according to his father. Each of them took time from his busy schedule to answer a few questions I had regarding the announcement, which has been in the works for a couple of months now. I'll start with the original Coach A, and then move to Coach A 2.0, for lack of a better term. And, no, before you ask, they are not "Sr." and "Jr." They each have a different middle initial.

Here we go.

(What do you think it will be like watching your son run the program?)

Coach A: "David had so much freedom to coach these past couple of years, that any transition kinks have already been smoothed out."

(How involved will you be?)

Coach A: "I am going to be his assistant for the entire year. My role will not change over the course of the season. To satisfy some people in our administration the results of first semester will go on my career record and David will be credited with the second semester results. But he will be making the decisions throughout."

(How would you describe the differences and similarities in your coaching styles?)

Coach A: "We've been finishing each others thoughts and sentences for a number of years. I don't expect too much to change."

(Finally, how is the new book coming?)

Coach A: "I have completed two of the fourteen chapters and will be starting Chapter 3 next week. I am thoroughly enjoying this process!"

A huge thanks to Coach A for his time. As I said, it will be interesting to see how this season plays out. Now, on to the "new" coach.

(First things first: are you still going to run The System? And please say yes ...)

Dave Arseneault: "It’s safe to say that ‘The System’ will be out in full force for the 2011-12 campaign. Besides, I don’t think the guys on the team would listen to me if I taught them the principles of tough, half-court man-to-man defense or the intricacies of the ‘Wisconsin Swing Offense.'"

(How did this all come about?)

Dave Arseneault: "It was actually my dad’s idea. He came to me during the middle of last year and told me that he was thinking of taking his sabbatical for the 2011-12 season. He asked me if I was ready and willing to take over in his absence. I was extremely excited at the possibility of taking over the program while he was on leave. From there, I applied for the position and was eventually hired."

(You've been such an integral part of that program for several years. Any downside to that familiarity?)

Dave Arseneault: "The only downside I can really think of is that I haven’t had the opportunity to learn from a variety of other coaches. But it’s hard to complain too much given that I’ve been working with somebody that I consider as one of the best and most innovative coaches in the country!"

(You and I have discussed your desire to learn a variety of styles of play from a variety of coaches. Do you still feel that way?)

Dave Arseneault: "I still feel that learning from as many different coaches and learning about as many different playing styles would help me develop as a coach. At the same time, an incredible opportunity presented itself and I’d be crazy to not take advantage of gaining valuable head coaching experience."

(How about the differences in your coaching styles? Your dad is somewhat noted for his habit of pulling up a chair at the far end of the bench, in the corner, and watching the action.)

Dave Arseneault: "Dad and I have a very similar thought process and very similar coaching styles. My mother thinks it’s a little scary because we’ll finish each other’s sentences at the dinner table. There are times during practice where we’ll both say the exact same thing to a player without even knowing it until after the fact. Even still, I’ve heard from some of the past players that the big fella has grown a bit mild-tempered as he’s gotten older. He’ll remain in his chair down the end of the bench, but his advice will certainly be called on regularly."

(What has been the reaction on campus and around the program?)

Dave Arseneault: "From what I know, the campus has been very receptive of the change. Everybody that I have talked to has been very supportive, including past teammates and current players."

(Now that you're in charge, can I finally get you to schedule a game in North Carolina?)

Dave Arseneault: "I’d love to get out to North Carolina for a game as long as you’re taking care of our travel accommodations ..."

That's a deal: I just have to find an opponent willing to play Grinnell, come up with a sponsor to pay for the team's travel, and we're in!

As I said, I'm always appreciative of these guys' time, as I am with all the coaches who take time to visit with me. We are getting closer and closer to hoops season, when The System will be in full effect. I have more teams than ever to follow, and I simply can't wait.

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