BENNINGTON >> Pending the approval of the Mount Anthony Union school board tonight, long-time boys basketball coach Dan Sleeman will become the next girls basketball coach.
Sleeman, 43, who has been the boys varsity basketball coach since 2001, said he was looking for a new challenge — something that's been floating in the ether for the past four years.
"[Coaching the girls program] was on my mind about four years ago, I never mentioned it except to family and then it was out of my mind," Sleeman said in an interview on Monday. "The last couple years, I had the feeling that I needed a change, a little bit."
Sleeman has had a lot of success at the boys varsity coach at Mount Anthony. He was Marble Valley Coach of the Year six times and the Vermont Basketball Coaches Association coach of the year in 2003-04. His 2003-04 team set the national record for points scored in a high school basketball game. Seven times in his 15 seasons, the Patriots reached the Final Four in Division I.
He's second in program history in winning percentage and actual victories, with 213, and he's the longest tenured Division I coach in Vermont.
But Sleeman felt it was time for a change.
"Over half of my life, if you include playing, I've been part of the boys program," Sleeman said. "Every three years, everything changes. There's a saying among coaches that if you want to do it right, it's a 12-month job, now it's a 12-month job anyway. It used to be November to March, but not anymore. It's not a boys or girls thing, it's just the way it is now. I've always looked at my job as a one-year thing, always reevaluate in the middle of the summer and if I'm not feeling it, it must be time [to step away]."
Sleeman played for legendary coach Dave Fredricksen for three years, graduating from MAU in 1989. After getting his degree in secondary education from Lyndon State in 1994, he returned to Bennington and was an assistant for Fredericksen for three seasons and then for two more with coach Jay Crosier.
Of course, for their to be a switch, the girls basketball job — which for the past three seasons has been held by Brian Harrington — had to come open and the timing worked out.
"I didn't think it would happen this year, I thought Brian would stick around, I had no idea," Sleeman said. "I was picking his brain about how he felt and his future plans and I sensed it wasn't definite that he would be coming back to coach.
"We share an office together and I talked to him about it, I wanted to make sure there were no hard feelings. Then we didn't talk for a stretch and then it sounded like he was making plans for summer ball, so I was in a holding pattern. Later on, I get a text from one of the physical education teachers, looking for someone with varsity basketball experience for the open PE job with [Tom Otero] retiring. I didn't know [Brian] had stepped down at that point, then it became a reality."
Next, Sleeman talked to MAU athletic director Tim Brown to apprise him of his interest in the switch.
"I went to Tim to let him know of my interest and he was surprised, but from his administrative spot, he said either way, he would have to hire a varsity coach," Sleeman said. "I had told Tim earlier at the end of the [season] how I was feeling and I had mentioned it. I wasn't sure if I was ready to come back, then he realized I was serious."
Sleeman also talked to his wife, Jana, about the change.
"She was like, 'Really?'," Sleeman said with a laugh. "She's been great, I always have her support. She knows the amount of time I put into it."
As is the case in most small towns, no matter how quiet it was, the news still leaked to some and Sleeman said the response he's heard has been terrific.
"I've been getting phone calls and emails from people who never call and it makes me feel really good. It tells me I've made the right decision," Sleeman said.
Sleeman's nomination goes before the board tonight, but with the lateral move, it's likely to just be a formality.
Now, MAU must hire a boys coach, and Sleeman said there are a handful of candidates including Andy Anderson, a varsity assistant for the boys program last season, Brent Kipp, a coach at the junior varsity level and Steve Carknard, a middle school coach.
"I've made the right decision, I'm totally comfortable with it," Sleeman said. "I'm already formulating the style and system of play — the girls game is different than the boys. It's just not X's and O's, it's also how to deal with female athletes versus males, they are more sensitive to the stress and pressures of a varsity sport, it's no different then in the classroom. I've reached out to several coaches and I think I have a handle of it."