Follow the Leader: Plantholt Hired at OWU
|After building up the Randolph-Macon program for the
past four years, Mike Plantholt makes the jump to Ohio Wesleyan to
follow in his mentor's footsteps.
© Ohio Wesleyan Sports Info
Back in the blurry lacrosse days of the mid-1980s, a talented
young coach was hired at Ohio Wesleyan with hopes of lifting the
Bishops to the next level. The man never presided over a game in
Delaware, Ohio, however, opting to move on to a different challenge
before the season even started.
A quarter century later, one of the man’s protégés has been hired to accomplish the exact same goal.
When he was hired at OWU in 1985, Hank Janczyk – the current head coach at Gettysburg and the owner of the second-most wins in college lacrosse history – was expected to raise the already high bar set by Jay Martin (who is still the Bishops’ soccer coach). Janczyk, however, was unable to make it past football season, resigning a lacrosse post he never actually filled before January to join Colgate as an assistant football coach and to coach the Raiders’ lacrosse program.
“I was a young guy trying to decide whether I wanted to be a football or lacrosse coach,” Janczyk said. “When I went out the to Ohio Wesleyan, I still didn’t know.”
Despite the jilting of Ohio Wesleyan after six months – a snub softened by the hiring of an unheralded young coach by the name of Mike Pressler – Janczyk factored into the latest coaching hire by the Battling Bishops.
Mike Plantholt, a former defensive player of the year for Janczyk with Gettysburg and a four-year assistant coach with the Bullets, has been tabbed as the replacement for Sean Ryan, who resigned earlier this summer.
Plantholt, who was the head coach at Randolph-Macon (Va.) for the past four seasons, was bolstered by his Gettysburg pedigree, but also by the high esteem in which OWU athletic director held Janczyk. A young baseball coach with the Bishops when Janczyk passed through, Roger Ingles knew he wanted the Bullets’ coach input when seeking a new lacrosse coach.
“I’ve known Hank for a long time, and I think most people will tell you he is one of the fine gentlemen in the sport of lacrosse,” Ingles said. “It’s important to me when I hire a coach that people are going to do things first class. I really believe that anyone that has had the opportunity to play or coach with him is not going to fall too far from that tree.”
While there is no doubt that the Janczyk pedigree put a foot in the door for Plantholt, he’s no courtesy hire.
Plantholt turned Randolph-Macon from a speed bump into a team that broke up the ODAC old-boy network, forcing that conference to go to a six-team playoff after the Yellow Jackets kept Roanoke out of the league tourney in 2008. His numbers weren’t astounding – Plantholt was 27-31 in four years there – but he made the most of his opportunity.
“I don’t get caught up in what somebody has done before they came here,” Ingles said. “What else do they bring to the table other than wins and losses? If I was going to look at myself and whether someone would hire me as a baseball coach after two years at Ohio Wesleyan, I wouldn’t have been hired at too many places. I think I was 25-48 after two years and ended up with 650 wins, so you have to ask yourself what is it they have to deal with, what are the situations they had, and what are the advantages? We feel like we have a lot of advantages in lacrosse at Ohio Wesleyan that will make them successful.”
“Ohio Wesleyan is, in terms of the facilites, support and tradition, night and day from Randolph-Macon,” said Plantholt. “It was night and day from Randolph-Macon, but it was pretty close to Gettysburg, so it wasn’t like I hadn’t been part of program that was that rich in its history.”
While the resources were different, Plantholt is thankful that Randolph-Macon took a chance on him to be its coach. His eye was drawn to the OWU job because of the tradition, but after recruiting all summer for the Yellow Jackets, the timing of leaving Ashland would have been, as Plantholt described it, “awkward.”
After one tour of the Ohio Wesleyan campus, a glance at the facilities and a meeting with the administration, the decision became clear for Plantholt professionally.
“When the opportunity came up, I thought the timing is never really good,” he said. “It’s never going to be the perfect time, but I felt like it was a no-brainer.”
There were painful phone calls.
“I was involved in bringing them into the Randolph-Macon program,” Plantholt said. “It was tough to not get emotional on the phone. I did not look forward to getting on the phone and calling them, but because we had this relationship, and we were close. It was something I had to do, but I hope I never have to do it again to be honest with you. It was awful.”
But it was something that had to be done, which Plantholt understood after seeking counsel with a familiar adviser.
“Coach Janczyk is my mentor,” Plantholt said. “He is someone I talk to before I make any big coaching decisions. He and I spoke a lot about it and the pros and cons of leaving and staying. He was talking about his experience [at Ohio Wesleyan], and I felt after we talked that it was the right decision for me.”
The right decision, perhaps, but the Ohio Wesleyan job will present serious challenges for Plantholt.
The Bishops’ defense returns nearly intact, but OWU graduated its entire attack and first middie line, along with two middies on the second line. There are certainly talented players waiting in the wings for their chance, but Plantholt is not walking into a stacked deck.
In addition, the new coach must wrap his head around swimming in Pool B after operating for his entire playing and coaching career in the black-and-white world of automatic qualifying conferences. While Ohio Wesleyan has secured an NCAA tournament at-large berth the last six years, he admits there will be a transition period in understanding the nuances.
“Every game is important no matter what,” Plantholt said of the Pool B life. “We can’t rely on an automatic qualifier. That’s something I’m going to have to get used to.”
He better get used to it fast. The OWU alums, like most tradition-rich programs, have high expectations for the Bishops. The former players and boosters are buoyed by Randolph-Macon’s upset of Denison two years ago, which was orchestrated by Plantholt, but that will only give him a hall pass through fall ball.
From there, the expectations go through the roof.
Ingles is all too aware of the alumni suppositions, and has given Plantholt a general blueprint.
“What I want Mike to do, and it’s what we talked about, is build the best possible program he can at Ohio Wesleyan given the opportunities and support that he has here,” Ingles said. “If that means getting back to a final four, that’s great. We don’t expect that to happen overnight. We’ve been fortunate to get into the NCAAs the last six years, but we haven’t had a lot of great success when we’ve gotten there. The first step is getting back to the NCAAs, having some success and building off of that.”
It’s a step that Hank Janczyk never reached with Ohio Wesleyan, so for once, Plantholt has the opportunity to one-up his mentor, and build a legacy of his own.