Bowdoin Job Poses Challenges for Archbell
The obstacles have already started for Jason Archbell, the new head coach at Bowdoin College. After serving as an assistant at Penn for the last two years, he has barely been on the Brunswick, Maine, campus for a week – he's in the early stages of evaluating what he'll have to work with next year – but he's already dealing with problems.
"It takes a ton of money and an Act of Congress to break a lease in Philadelphia," said Archbell with a laugh.
As such, Archbell's wife will not be able to move to Maine until October. Living without his betrothed for a couple of months will be a hassle, but it's just one of the challenges that awaits Archbell as he joins the NESCAC – the most rigorous conference in NCAA Division III. Any coach in the league will tell you that there are no days off once the conference schedule starts, and that was confirmed when the NESCAC became the first league in division history to send four teams to the national tournament last spring.
Alas, Archbell not only embraces this fact, but feels he knows a little about it.
"How good the programs are and how good the coaches are, that's exciting and it's definitely a draw," Archbell said. "At Penn, we had the hardest schedule in the country and it was exciting and it draws kids, even if it kind of kicked us in the [butt] a little bit [the Quakers finished 3-10 in '12]. We'll have a hard schedule at Bowdoin, too. It's hard to say that we'll have the hardest schedule in the country, but we'll have a tough one. That's something Tom McCabe has always done, and we'll continue that. It's fun for the kids to meet those challenges."
Replacing McCabe, who retired after 22 years at Bowdoin to join the Peace Corps with his wife, presents a different sort of challenge for Archbell. Although the Polar Bears only had two berths in the NCAA tournament during McCabe's time, they were a model of consistency. Known as a physical and disciplined squad, Bowdoin always gave the top NESCAC teams fits – they were the only team to beat Middlebury in '02 and took Tufts to overtime in '11 before both of those teams eventually won national championships.
Archbell has no intention of overhauling Bowdoin's image, but there will be some changes.
"Obviously the kids respected and loved Coach McCabe, and loved playing for him," Archbell said. "I just think he's an awesome guy. As far as Xs and Os go, yeah, maybe that stuff will be different because we're different people, so the identity of the program might be different. But I don't think there are going to be any wholesale changes. I'm just going to try to bring in the best kids I can and kids that I feel are the right fit for Bowdoin. I'm sure that's what Coach McCabe was doing, and I'm sure that will continue to happen.
"I certainly want to bring my ideas and things that I thought worked really well at some of the other schools I've been at, especially Penn. It might be new and exciting for the guys, and that will be good, too."
Archbell made his coaching (and playing) bones on defense, but he'll push the tempo if he has the horses to do it.
"I like an athletic style of game; I like an up-tempo style," he said. "But I'm not stupid, either, and we'll always play to our strengths. One year, we might be might a little bit stronger on the defensive end and grind it out on offense a little more. And as those offensive guys get older, maybe we'll open it up a little bit. I want to be tough and disciplined and play as hard as we can. I'm certainly going to educate my team to be as smart as they can be in certain situations."
While he is coming from Penn, Archbell is a Division III guy and understands the weight of his new job. He was an All-American pole for Hampden-Sydney and had coaching stints at Denison, Kenyon, Virginia Wesleyan and Washington & Lee prior to signing on with the Quakers. He also admits to admiring the NESCAC from afar and having a great respect for the coaches in the league. "It's nice to be mentioned among real quality coaches," he said.
They are quality coaches who will do their best to make sure Archbell's first season at Bowdoin is miserable. There are plenty of challenges for the Polar Bears' new skipper, but that's probably the biggest one.