What makes this year so unusual is that the football and both basketball programs are experiencing coaching changes at the same time.
The biggest change is that Don Brubacher is stepping down after leading the men’s basketball team for 25 years, although the resignation of Rusty Allen as women’s coach after three consecutive trips to the NAIA national tournament is significant.
Brubacher also took a leave from coaching for a couple of years so he could spend more time watching his sons play high school basketball.
The fact that Don Brubacher is stepping down from coaching shouldn’t be a big surprise, although he could have continued for at least another decade if he had wanted to.
That said, being a head coach at any level is draining emotionally. At the small college level, recruiting can be every bit as challenging as at the major college level.
Coaching and recruiting is a full-time job, but Brubacher did much more than that. He’s also the athletic director and he teaches some classes. No one has to ask what he does in his spare time, because he doesn’t have any.
It’s no wonder that there was some slippage in the men’s program the past few years, although it was still very competitive. But being merely competitive had to be painful for Brubacher because his teams won 11 conference championships and qualified for post-season play 20 times in his tenure.
My perspective on Brubacher is admittedly biased because he was my soccer coach when I played at Tabor in the late 1970s. His positive attributes far overshadow his weaknesses.
He showed genuine concern for his student-athletes. He is a very analytical coach and student of the game who strives for excellence minus the yelling and screaming.
I recall one occasion in which he gave the soccer team a long lecture after a narrow victory because he was disappointed that we didn’t play better.
On the other hand, he was very encouraging and uplifting after a narrow loss to a team that had much more talent than we did.
While he always coached to win, Brubacher wanted his teams to play to the best of their ability. If they did that, he could live with the results.
Micah Ratzlaff is stepping into some big shoes. Following a living legend is never easy, especially when the living legend continues to be your boss and athletic director.
But Ratzlaff played basketball for Brubacher, and he clearly was handpicked to be the next head coach.
Fortunately for Ratzlaff, he is working for someone who has no illusions about the task at hand. I was struck by the bluntness of Brubacher’s assessment of the program in a recent Free Press article. He said, “I think it’s fair to say that Micah has the task of rebuilding the program.”
That, more than anything, shows that Brubacher is at peace with his decision. After analyzing the demands on his life, he believes it’s in the best interest of the program to let someone else take over.
And he clearly believes Ratzlaff is capable of returning Tabor men’s basketball to prominence.
If I know Coach Brubacher, it wasn’t a hasty decision.