By Garrett Cote
When longtime Springfield College men’s basketball coach Charlie Brock informed the Pride that last season would be his final one coaching at the Birthplace, many people were in shock that his seemingly immortal 24-year tenure was coming to an end.
The same booming voice that rang through the Pride huddle for two-and-a-half decades was calling it a career, and with that, the search to find a new person for the job began.
It’s almost always a certainty that Springfield College head coaches check at least one of these boxes: they are an alum of Springfield, have some sort of connection or tie to the college or are at least from the New England area.
Michael McClendon, the 15th head men’s basketball coach in program history, doesn’t check any of those boxes, but he checks the important ones — the necessary ones.
That includes how he deals with his player-coach relationships, the individual expectations he gives to each player, and the overall message he intends to convey throughout his time here on Alden Street – however short or long.
The Atlantic City, N.J., native played two years at both Wesley College and Atlantic Cape College. He has an infectious aura that the Pride, who are coming off a below-average 6-17 season, need.
“As I go through my journey and I continue to evolve and grow, I realize that the most important part of being a coach is your relationship with your players,” McClendon said. “You’re coaching the person. Not the player.”
Over the course of Coach Mac’s two-year stint as the head coach of Middlesex County Community College, which was his final stop before Springfield, he learned several invaluable lessons that he now takes with him to the Pride. Not only that he prefers to coach the person and not the player, but also how to shape those people into better men beyond their time as basketball players.
And that starts with community service, something that McClendon cherishes and values.
“You have to lead from the front. You have to be someone out there who perceives the things that your community needs,” he said. “Wherever that need is, let me go figure out how I can help it. What you’re going to get from that is growth. You’ll learn more about yourself and the deficiencies that you have to fix. It also shows the community how important they are to you, and they’ll want to turn around and come watch and cheer you on. It’s two-fold.”
At the end of every season, a team’s win-loss record ultimately determines whether or not they had a successful year. McClendon measures success in his own way, with wins and losses holding little weight in that metric.
“How far can you take the person next to you? That’s how I measure success,” he said. “If someone has a need, I have to figure out how to meet that need.”
McClendon takes his holistic approach into the classroom as well. He is teaching a course on coaching and officiating basketball, and understands that a lot of the people in that class are likely taking it to fulfill a requirement and don’t actually want to become a coach or official.
“I said to my class on the first day, ‘Tell me what you want out of this class,’” McClendon said.
“‘Yes, I have a curriculum that I have to teach, but I want to meet you halfway. What do you need to get out of this class? If I’m just talking at you about my curriculum, you’re going to ask yourself why you’re even here. I teach need-based.”
On the court, McClendon has three simple rules he wants his players to follow. If they do, he sees the Pride returning to the NEWMAC tournament with a shot at the NCAA Tournament.
“Expectations to me are not result-based,” McClendon said. “Expectations to me are this: Availability. Accountability. Showing up to work every day. I’m still evaluating everyone, so I have to have a baseline. Those are my three foundations for expectations. And what comes with that? Competition. Compete. Compete. Compete.”
McClendon is stoked to show the Springfield College community what he has in store for the men’s basketball program. He might not check off all the boxes that a traditional Pride coach does, but he has already shown he has the intangibles to connect with players – and students – here on campus.
Springfield College men’s basketball most certainly has its guy.
Photos Courtesy Springfield College Athletics