Three coaches, one character trait

Joe VandenBerg is introduced as the next Ottumwa HS girls basketball coach. VandenBerg succeeds Kevin Patterson, who spent eight seasons as the head coach.

As Ottumwa High School activities director, Scott Maas would just as soon hire as few coaches as possible.

But this school year posed unique challenges.

Maas just completed hiring three head coaches for arguably the three most high-profile gigs in the school — football, girls basketball and boys basketball. Joe VandenBerg was introduced as the girls basketball coach Thursday, Neil Hartz as the boys basketball coach two weeks ago and Brian Goodvin as football coach in late January.

All three are well aware of their student-athletes. All three bring one core element to the job that perhaps separated them from other candidates.

“They have enthusiasm, and believe me, I’m well aware of the hours it takes in the offseason to coach a program,” Maas said Thursday. “It will be tough if you don’t have the passion, but these guys have the commitment to be successful, and they will do what it takes for that to happen.”

When Goodvin, who’d been a longtime assistant coach in the football program, was hired, he talked about making football “a unique experience” but also a program dedicated to “strength and conditioning.” Still, he takes over a program that has won two games since 2016.

Hartz, who spent over a decade as an assistant basketball coach, talked about becoming “Ottumwa tough” again and committing to defense. He’s the fourth head coach in four years for a program that is trying to build a winning foundation.

VandenBerg is in a different boat. While Goodvin and Hartz are trying to resurrect programs, Vandenberg, who has spent time coaching basketball at the middle school and high school levels, wants to build on the success former coach Kevin Patterson put together over eight years. VandenBerg already is getting participation at open gyms, as 13 freshmen were at the first one. The team has already played 10 games this offseason in a schedule that will feature 25 to 30 games.

“With us, it’s about taking that next step,” VandenBerg said, regarding the challenge of beating other high-powered CIML teams. “But it comes with experience. We don’t care what team we’re facing or what name is on the front of their jersey. We just have to taste some of that success.

“Part of that next step is getting a game from the state tournament. We’ve won that first game (in regionals), now we have to win the second one.”

Maas probably could have hired from outside, but he hasn’t seen characteristics from those candidates that coaches within the school district don’t possess.

“I try not to look at one sport as being more important than the other. What we’re looking for is the best fit for the job,” Maas said. “We feel Joe is that. He knows how the program is run, and I was impressed with his planning and preparation.

“But these coaches know the kids already, and if you bring someone from the outside in, you really don’t know what you’re going to get.”

Three coaches. Three hires in five months. It’s been a whirlwind for Maas, but he felt no additional pressure to get it right despite the higher-profile sports.

“All three coaches are extremely experienced and enthusiastic,” he said. “But they want to be here, and that’s a plus for me as well.” 

Chad Drury can be reached at cdrury@ottumwacourier.com, and on Twitter @ChadDrury

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