On January 6, 2017, Amy Vachon was named the University of Maine’s Interim Head Coach following Head Coach Richard Barron stepping aside for medical reasons. She continued in this role through the 2017-18 season where she led the program to the America East Conference Regular Season and Tournament Championships, resulting in an NCAA Tournament appearance. The 2017-18 America East Coach of the Year and 2000 Maine graduate has seized the opportunity she was thrust into and was rewarded to being promoted to the program’s Head Coach in March.
As Maine’s Interim Head Coach last season, how did you lead the program to success, while building towards the future, without necessarily a guarantee you would be leading the program beyond the season?
In January of 2017, I was named program’s Interim Head Coach for the remainder of the 2016-2017 season. At this time, I really just tried to build on the foundation Coach Barron had laid. I was fortunate to be with him since the beginning of his time at Maine and was very familiar of how he went about building this program. I really didn’t see it necessary to change much, as the program had climbed back to the top of America East under his guidance.
It also was helpful that I recruited all of the players on our team and so we were very familiar with each other. We talked about taking it one day at a time and not worrying about the future. I give complete credit to the staff and players. We had a bit of an upheaval at the end of the season, losing 7 players and 3 staff members, but Jhasmin Player, our Recruiting Coordinator and Top Assistant Coach, committed herself to our program with me. Combined with our returning players being committed, I felt passionately that our future was bright.
In April of 2017, I was named Interim Head Coach for the 2017-2018 season. This gave our program some stability, at least for the next year. None of us, coaches, players, staff really looked beyond this year. We knew we had a lot of talent returning, but most of all we had a locker room full of people who wanted to be at Maine and everyone was determined to have a great season.
What benefits and challenges were there in transitioning from Associate Head Coach to Head Coach at the same University, Maine?
As anyone will tell you, the transition from an Assistant Coach to a Head Coach is a big one. During the three months of the season I was Interim Head Coach, it really was a collective staff effort. I was the “interim”, but everything we did, every decision that was made, we made as a staff. That changed in April, when I was named the Head Coach for the 2017-2018 season. From then on, decisions were ultimately mine and I was responsible for making sure this program remained at the top of America East.
Being from Maine and having played here, definitely helps, but really working with Coach Barron for seven years was the ultimate benefit. He allowed me to be involved in every aspect of the program and so when it was my time to slide over one seat, I believe I was ready.
One of the biggest challenges I have faced is that the relationships with the kids as a Head Coach is different than those relationships you have as an Assistant Coach. I believe this is necessary, as now I am the one who ultimately holds them accountable and is deciding playing time, etc.. I still work hard to maintain great relationships with all our players, but is not the same. However, it is fun to watch our players interact with our assistant coaches and see it through a different lens.
What are some strategies that you have utilized to best empower and delegate to your assistant coaches?
My first year at UMaine as an Assistant Coach, I remember being asked, “Are you invaluable to this program? Would this program miss you if you weren’t here?” This question made me take a long, hard look in the mirror, and I had to answer honestly. At that point, if I wasn’t invaluable, and it bothered me. Every since then, I made an effort to make sure if I wasn’t here, the program would miss me.
I ask this question to our staff. What are you doing that makes you invaluable? Yes, each staff member has things they are responsible for, but what are they doing to go above and beyond? How are they empowering our players to be the best they can be as people, students and basketball players?
I have also learned that it is okay if things aren’t done how I would have done them. For a long time in my life, I just did things myself because I knew it would get done how I wanted it. I have tried to let go of this and delegate more to our staff. Even if things aren’t done how I would have done them, most of the time, it comes out better!
Knowing what you know now as a Division I Head Coach, what advice do you have for assistant coaches to best prepare to lead their own DI program?
I think the most important thing is to always be learning and always be ready. You really never know when you will get your chance. For me, I really didn’t even think I wanted to be a Head Coach. I was happy with my role as an Assistant Coach. I enjoyed coming to work every day. However, when the situation arose, I was ready. I was ready because of the mentorships I had in my career. I like to ask people, “who really taught you about basketball, about life, about leadership and relationships?” These areas are so important in coaching and teaching. For me, My dad was my high school coach and he has been the most important mentor I’ve had. My college coach, Coach P, taught me a ton. Finally Coach Barron hiring me at Maine was the best thing that could have happened and he continues to be someone I talk to every day.
I also think you need to learn every day. Be a sponge, soak everything up and take what you like and use it. Finally, you need to be yourself. If I tried to be my dad, or Coach P, or Coach Barron I would fail miserably. There is only one you. Be yourself and enjoy working with our future.