by ANDREW GARDA
Sleep is a luxury that new Montclair High School varsity boys lacrosse head coach John Scanlan can’t really afford.
Scanlan accepted the job a few days before Christmas, hit the ground running and hasn’t stopped working since.
“I don’t sleep a lot anymore,” he acknowledged.
Take last Friday night, for example, when Scanlan and the coaching staff wanted to do a team-building exercise to teach the kids about legendary Montclair coaches Gil Gibbs and Homer Robinson.
It was a 45-minute presentation that took about six hours to prepare.
“I had just gotten into bed and was thinking ‘how do I get this message through?’” Scanlan recalled. “It was already three hours after I normally go to bed because I was working. After about five minutes of coming up with something I got right back up, sat down at a computer and worked until about 3:30 to get it done.”
Luckily, he’s not doing it alone. In fact, Scanlan wanted to make that point very clear.
“I don’t want this to be about me,” he insists. “[The assistant coaches] are doing the heavy lifting. I want to be really clear about this and on the record — this coaching staff is spectacular.”
Among that group is offensive coordinator Doug Nettingham, whom Scanlan has known for 30 years. They both bring years of experience to the table.
On the other hand, coaches like defensive coordinator Drew Jenkins and JV/freshman coach Nate Hill, as well as assistant coaches Chris Smith and Dylan Koontz, are all recent college players. They’ve played at some of the highest levels of college lacrosse, and are able to bring some recent practical experience to bear for kids who are considering trying to play at the next level.
Scanlan has known some of the coaches for a long time. Jenkins, for example, was a young midfielder Scanlan met while coaching for MHS in 2008.
“Things didn’t come together right away with Drew. He was one of the last to join the staff,” Scanlan said. “The day Drew said he was coming…it was manna from heaven. It was like, oh, this is going to work, because they’re all coming.”
It isn’t all homecomings. Hill played for Columbia High School, where he met Jenkins on the field his senior year. After spending the last three years at his old high school as a coach, the tradition of Montclair drew him to join the staff at his school’s old rival.
“Nate, he was on the same page before I even met him,” Scanlan recalled.
That “page” is about giving the players the best experience possible, while also helping teach them the tools they need to succeed in life.
“I think the overall theme is to sort of tie lessons of life and education with sport to make them better people,” Scanlan said.
The staff constantly talks about the team as a family, and the aim of that family is to help one another become better in all areas of life.
The team-building night was a good example of this. Before the presentation, Scanlan took a few minutes to teach the team how to listen, a skill he says will help them for the rest of their lives.
That’s one of the things the coaching staff is most trying to emulate from the era of Gibbs and Robinson. Although Scanlan didn’t play for Gibbs, he’s heard a lot about him from people in town who did.
Work ethic, respect, character and teamwork are all parts of what made that era special and what the staff is trying to focus on again. It starts with the coaches, who have a deep and obvious affection and respect for one another.
“What we have, mutually, is hard work and respect for each other’s hard work,” says Hill.
“I was cut by this program,” said Nettingham. “In 1992, I was on the varsity and got sent down to JV. Could have quit, but didn’t. Busted my butt, went back up, was a nice little bench player and got me a championship.”
The drive and the attitude Nettingham had learned in the program continued to serve him well after leaving the program.
“I’ve done a lot of stuff and I’ve used what I’ve learned playing lacrosse here from the coaches and the players I’ve played with to be that person.”
For the coaching staff, it’s critical that their players leave better people than they were when they arrived. Wins and losses are important too, but it has to be about more than that.
It’s about family.
“We are trying to maintain and reinvigorate a family program here,”Scanlan said. “We treat each other like family. These guys are my family. We are riding or dying together.”