Four Tufts assistants embark on the road to success elsewhere

Four Jumbo assistant coaches have taken the next step in their careers and joined the flock of one-time Tufts coaches who are now at programs around the country.

A pair of Tufts women will try to turn around floundering programs as first-time head coaches, volleyball’s Marritt Cafarchia at Div. I Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. and Kate Gluckman of women’s basketball at Grinnell College in Iowa.

Two football staffers – longtime assistant John Walsh and graduate assistant Ben Bloom – are Ivy League-bound as defensive assistants. Walsh will coach outside linebackers at Yale and Bloom will be a defensive line assistant at Harvard.

“I’m so thrilled for all of them,” Director of Athletics Bill Gehling said. “They’re all taking great steps in their careers, and they’ll do tremendous jobs where they’re going.”

The foursome joins the large and dispersed pool of coaches across New England and the nation whose careers have included a stint in Medford. The Daily found 20 head coaches nationwide, including the seven current Tufts head coaches, who were assistant coaches or graduate assistants (GAs) here before moving to head coaching positions.

Gluckman, a GA under coach Carla Berube for the past two seasons, credited Tufts’ supportive athletics department with furthering her coaching aspirations.

“As a GA, the pay isn’t fantastic,” she said, laughing. “But there’s a sense that the work that we do is very valuable. You leave Tufts really enjoying the coaching experience and wanting to do more of it.”

Gluckman (LA ’04) and Bloom (LA ’05) join a list that includes current Tufts head coaches Cheryl Milligan (LA, ’95), Cora Thompson (LA ’99), Martha Whiting (LA ’90) and Mike Daly (LA ’95) – all Tufts graduates who used a GA position to springboard into a career in coaching.

“They’re great examples of people – and we have a lot of them on our staff now – who didn’t come to Tufts with the expectation of becoming a coach, but had a great experience as an athlete, which they then continued as a graduate assistant,” Gehling said. “They got the coaching bug and decided to make a career of it.”

For Bloom, who was originally an economics major and planned to go into business, that bug bit in his senior year.

“I didn’t think about getting to coaching at all until my last year, after football season was over,” said Bloom, who received his Masters in Education from Tufts last year. “I thought about it and decided coaching was something I wanted to try out and that now was a good time to do it.”

The four schools adding a former Jumbo to their coaching staffs run the gamut of collegiate athletics, give or take a Michigan or an Ohio State:

Harvard and Yale are Div. I-AA in football and members of the Ivy League. Holy Cross plays in the Patriot League, a conference that includes Bucknell, Lehigh, Army and Navy and boasts the highest graduation rate in Div. I-AA. And Grinnell is a liberal arts college of 1,500 students, nestled in a rural Iowa town of the same name, population 9,500.

What unites them, Gehling noted, is a commitment to academics.

“These are all great schools – different in a lot of ways, but very serious about academics,” he said. “Tufts sports have certainly had success, but that changes from year to year. Our commitment to academics hasn’t changed, and someone who has grown under that system either as a player or as a coach is very attractive to a school that feels similarly.”

Greg Wallace, the Director of Athletics at Grinnell, agreed that Tufts’ academic reputation, perhaps even more than its athletic one, helped win Gluckman the job. Tufts and Grinnell are both members of the Haverford Group, a collection of like-minded colleges and universities committed to maintaining balance between academics and athletics.

“Kate brings great enthusiasm and great passion for the game of basketball, but also that same enthusiasm and passion for her student-athletes, and that’s important,” Grinnell Director of Athletics Greg Wallace said.

Walsh, who served as the recruiting coordinator during his seven years at Tufts, has seen a similar student-athlete profile in his few weeks at Yale, a sentiment echoed by Bloom at Harvard.

“The goal at Tufts and inside the athletic department is for football to be a piece of the educational puzzle, and that doesn’t really change as much as you’d think [at the Div. I level],” Walsh said. “I’m going to be recruiting the same kind of kid at Yale that I did at Tufts – serious about football and serious about getting a world-class education.”

Bloom and Walsh on opposite sides of a century-old rivalry

First they were high school teammates – sort of. Separated by eight years, Ben Bloom and John Walsh both played for local Wellesley High School.

Then they were coach and player. Both were rookies at Tufts in the fall of 2001, Bloom as a freshman lineman and Walsh as the team’s new defensive coordinator. Bloom ended up on the other side of the ball, as a two-year starter on the offensive line, but Walsh saw the freshman’s work ethic and diligence in drills.

Then they were colleagues. Bloom took a graduate assistant position at Tufts after his graduation in 2005 and shifted to Walsh’s domain as a defensive line coach. Whenever Walsh had meetings with other coaches, he took Bloom along, helping the young coach establish networks.

And now, as both coaches take the next step in their careers, they will find themselves on opposite sides of one of college football’s greatest rivalries. Walsh was recently hired as a defensive coach at Yale, Bloom as a defensive line assistant at Harvard.

Harvard and Yale’s annual battle, known simply as “The Game,” is one of the oldest and most intense rivalries in the game. The teams first met in 1875, and in the 124 games since then, the rivalry has grown in tradition and intensity.

“We’ll shake each other’s hands before the game and after the game, but between that, we’re going to be trying to kick their butts,” Walsh said.

Walsh will be coaching alongside the man he once played for at Amherst. Jack Siedlecki left the Lord Jeffs in 1997, the same year Walsh graduated, to become the head coach at Yale. When the defensive position opened up this winter, Siedlecki contacted his former player.

“It was such a tough decision, because I really fell in love with Tufts,” said Walsh, who noted that he would love to return to Tufts as a head coach in the future. “But it’s a great move for me professionally. There are always other philosophies, other ways to do things, and you can never learn too much.”

Walsh coached at Georgetown before coming to Tufts in 2001 and is excited about the opportunities afforded by the Div. I-AA level.

“I was always a little frustrated by the short season in NESCAC, and not having a spring season or be able to be on the road recruiting,” he said. “I’m excited to get back to that.”

The Bulldogs are in the middle of their spring season – allowed in Div. I-AA but prohibited by NESCAC and many other Div. III conferences – and Walsh has planned a 12-day recruiting road trip for next month.

Bloom is making his first foray into Div. I. After three years as a GA for the Jumbos, Bloom jumped at the chance to coach the Crimson, Ivy League champions in 2001, 2004 and 2007. He is a defensive line assistant, working under defensive line coach Carlton Hall, and handles film duties.

When the two meet in Cambridge next November, in addition to a past that goes back to high school football in Wellesley, there will be mutual respect on both sidelines.

“He’s a great guy to play for, a great motivator,” Bloom said of Walsh. “In the three years I worked for him, he taught me his whole defense and kind of took me under his wing. I respect him a lot a really appreciate everything he’s done for me.”

“But I’m looking forward to seeing him on the other sideline,” he added. “It’ll be fun.”

Cafarchia catches on at the Div. I level

Marritt Cafarchia knows the difference a seemingly small strategic change can make.

This fall, the Tufts volleyball team was stuck in neutral. A rocky September put the Jumbos at 7-9 and needing a late-season miracle if they were going to make the NESCAC Tournament.

Filling in for head coach Cora Thompson, Cafarchia switched the Jumbos to a 5-1 formation in early October. The team won 11 of its last 13 matches and turned around a season on the brink.

“This last season was definitely magic, in that the whole team came together to overcome the absence of Coach T,” Cafarchia said in an e-mail to the Daily. “The girls helped me find my coaching style.”

Cafarchia will take that touch where it is sorely needed – to Holy Cross, which has had only one winning season since 1993, as its newest head coach. After spending the fall of 2006 as a Tufts assistant and acting as the team’s head coach during Thompson’s personal leave in 2007, Cafarchia was hired last month as the Crusaders’ head coach.

“We conducted a nationwide search and ended up finding someone in our own backyard,” said Ann Zelesky, associate athletic director at Holy Cross. “She had everything we were looking for.”

Those qualifications included an appreciation of the academic side of the student-athlete experience. Holy Cross, a Division I school, plays in the Patriot League, which includes other top schools like Colgate, Lehigh and Bucknell and has the highest graduation rate of all Div. I-AA conferences.

Another plus for the hiring committee, according to Zelesky, was Cafarchia’s California pedigree. A native of Arroyo Grande, Calif. and a former player at the University of California, Davis, Cafarchia has an established network in the state, the sport’s most fertile recruiting ground.

The Crusaders have historically struggled and Cafarchia hopes that a fresh start might turn the team’s fortunes. She began practicing with the team shortly after the announcement about five weeks ago, and the Crusaders picked up a pair of wins in a New York tournament on April 12-13.

“I only see one way to look at the situation: We can only go up from here,” Cafarchia said in an e-mail to the Daily. “Our main focus at this point is to increase our confidence, and we are doing that by working very hard. I think some of the girls thought they joined the track team in our first week of practice. The girls have the talent; we just need to put some confidence, aggression and passion behind us.”

Gluckman lands head coaching gig

Greg Wallace liked what he saw right away. The athletic director at Grinnell was looking for a new head women’s basketball coach and the application of Kate Gluckman, a young assistant coach from Tufts University, some 1,250 miles east, caught his eye.

Gluckman had been a four-year player at Tufts before spending three years as an assistant to Carla Berube, a former Connecticut standout and a rising name in college coaching. She was also a good fit academically at Grinnell, which, like Tufts, is a member of the Haverford Group, a collection of institutions dedicated to keeping academics a major part of college athletics. And she had gained some national experience with the Jumbos’ run to the Elite Eight of the 2007-08 Div. III NCAA Tournament.

“She became one of our top candidates right off the bat, just from her background, her application and recommendations from a handful of people,” Wallace said.

After phone interviews and an on-site visit, Wallace had found his new hire.

In bringing in Gluckman, Grinnell is making a serious gesture towards its women’s basketball program. The previous coach pulled triple-duty as the men’s tennis coach and an administrator, and the Pioneers have had only one winning season since 1992-93.

“Grinnell has the infrastructure to be very successful – they have facilities that will blow your mind and there is a lot of support and money put towards athletics,” Gluckman said. “I think having a full-time coach will make a big difference.”

To translate those resources – and six returning players who started at least 10 games last season – into a successful first year, Gluckman will take a page out of her mentor’s book. When Berube arrived at Tufts in 2002 she immediately demanded more of her athletes in the leadup to the season start.

“It starts with really upping the intensity of preseason work, instilling the mentality that that is where success will come from, not from what we do [when practice starts] on October 15,” Gluckman said. “That culture change won’t come overnight, but Coach Berube has done it here and you can see where it’s taken the team.”

Gluckman said that her coaching strategy is similar to Berube’s, who has made strong defense and transition offense cornerstones of her teams’ playing styles, but will work with what she has.

“I’m going to try and take a lot from Coach Berube and the Tufts style, but I expect that what I see at Grinnell will influence that,” she said.

Gluckman’s career as a player and an assistant coach at Tufts has seen the rise of the program to regional and, this year, national prominence. The Jumbos went 17-7 in 2002-03, Gluckman’s junior year, and have had only one losing season under Berube, who has a career mark of 103-48 at Tufts.

“Winning and losing isn’t everything, but success at a place like Tufts, which is similar to Grinnell academically, makes a world of difference,” Wallace said. “Their success recently was definitely a factor.”