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Namolik named head hoops coach

By Staff | Apr 10, 2009

Justin Namolik, top center, responds to questions during a public job interview process at Shepherd.

Sometime next winter, former assistant coach and interim head coach Justin Namolik will experience his first game as, simply, the head coach of the Shepherd men’s Basketball team. His performance as head coach will be a referendum on not only the choice to promote him, but also the process by which he was chosen. It was conducted in a manner more typically associated with a high-level academic administrative searches, such as for a university vice president, a departure from how Shepherd coaching positions had been filled in the past. It is also the first high-profile athletic hiring decision to be made under the watch of first year university president Suzanne Shipley and Karl Wolf, Shepherd’s athletic director since 2004.

For schools of the size and notoriety of Shepherd, coaching positions are usually handled entirely within their athletic departments. The search for Shepherd’s head coach, on the other hand, involved an 11-member search committee with three non-voting members. The committee included the usual suspects one would associate with an athletic hiring process: There was Monte Cater, head coach of the football team; women’s hoops coach Jodi Runner; and members of Shepherd’s health, physical education, and recreation department faculty. It also included representatives of the Alumni Association, and the Board of Governors. Mike Athey, a Shepherd University graduate and longtime local more typically associated with his involvement in the Shepherdstown Fire Department, represented the general public. Essentially, he was the vote of the fans.

According to Shipley, the process was designed to impress upon candidates that there are many different stakeholders in the success of the hire. The fans want a competitive team, the players want a coach they can work with, and the faculty want a coach who impresses the importance of balancing academics and athletics. “You get to know that you have a lot of bosses. Said Shipley, “Sometimes there will be conflicts, and it’s good to air those out in the hiring process. Shipley and Wolf say that this may be the manner in which future coaches are hired, but much of that will depend on public interest. Shipley goes a little farther and says she might be interested in conducting high level academic faculty searches in this manner, but they’re still evaluating the process.

About 50 candidates were narrowed down to six based on resume alone. Those six were subjected to a round of telephone interviews, narrowing the field to three. The identities of those three were publicized, a rarity in any coaching hire of any status. Those three then went through on campus interviews with the search committee. One withdrew, leaving only two candidates for the final, most public, part of the job search: The meet and greet with the candidates.

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A sweating coach and the smell of lacquered wood are normally associated with the chaotic confines of a basketball arena. But Namolik is not barking out strategies, he’s sitting in the opulently paneled West Virginia room of the Ruth Scarborough Library, taking questions from the general public, including his players, on every topic even remotely associated with basketball. Everyone in the room is holding a candidate evaluation form handed out by Wolf.

Namolik, having already served one season as interim head coach, is a known quantity among the interested parties here and the questions are more intimate than they would be the next night when his competition – Hood College’s men’s head coach Tom Dickman – took the hot seat. Stacie Rohn, director of the Martinsburg Boys & Girls Club asks about what type of community service activities the team might do under his leadership. A young boy in a cub scout uniform asks if he’ll hold more basketball camps. On recruiting and strategy, the questions are direct and to the point.

“You got off to an awful start, 0-6, last year. If you had to do it any differently, what would you have done?” asks one, seated at the conference table. The room shares a tense laugh, and Namolik goes into the details of man-to-man defense, and the types of breakaways he’d run. He benched two-year starter Fred Lymans for a few games last season, disappointed with his performance. He points directly at Lymans and tells the assembled crowd that he’d do it again, if he needed to.

After an hour, the questions begin to peter out. Karl Wolf issues a last call for anyone to make their voice heard. There are no takers, and Wolf closes the session, asking the group to hand him their evaluation forms. Namolik looks relieved and exhausted, and for the first time tonight he relaxes back into his chair for a moment before departing the room, pausing to speak with supporters outside the door.

The assembled public was impressed with him. Three days later he was hired.