YAKIMA, Wash. -- In coaching, few challenges equal being the guy after the guy.
Meaning that no matter how attractive a particular job might seem, or how well suited a person might appear for said job, the spectre of following someone who was uniquely or historically successful can change everything.
Pity the poor Blue Devil who succeeds Mike Krzyzewzski.
For Greg Oldham, the task as Yakima Valley’s women’s basketball coach isn’t nearly that daunting. Yet most who have followed the Yaks’ recent fortunes, and who watched them reach three consecutive NWAACC championship games, understand the lofty level of success and accompanying expectations left by Oldham’s predecessor, Cody Butler.
Qualifying for the tournament in each of his nine seasons at YVCC put Butler on head coach Gordy Presnell’s radar at Boise State. Making three straight title games and winning in 2011 put him on Presnell’s staff last summer as an assistant.
Enter Oldham, who was preparing for his fourth season as Ray Funk’s assistant with the Yakima Valley men.
“Geno Auriemma has said that it’s hard to coach women’s teams at Connecticut because anything less than an undefeated national championship season is considered a failure,” Oldham says. “I feel a little of that here.”
On the other hand, it’s not like Oldham has neither coached nor won before.
He won with White Swan’s girls, where his boys coaching colleague was Funk. He then won with Coupeville’s girls, and later with West Valley’s girls.
“My first year at West Valley,” Oldham says, “for awhile it looked like we’d be lucky to finish .500, and we finished third in the state tournament. It was a learning process, and the kids had to learn to trust me.”
The players at YVCC will need to trust him, too. Trust — or respect, whichever you prefer — has always been the foundation regarding coach-player relationships.
And Butler’s players trusted him because they knew his record. Hence, they knew that he knew what he was talking about.
Simply stated, they understood that if they did what he told them to do, they’d win. So they did it.
“I don’t think any person, especially a young person, likes change,” Oldham says. “And my style of coaching is so much different than Cody’s that it will probably seem alien to them for awhile. I’m a lot less loud and vocal. I tend to do things more quietly.”
Also, there will be strategic changes, mostly involving YVCC’s defense. Oldham’s Yaks won’t do as much half-court pressing and trapping,
“I loved the style Cody’s teams played,” he says, “It made really bad teams look even worse, but at the highest level you’re more likely to have a kid make a mistake. So one of the biggest changes will be that we’ll no longer deny the first pass. We’ll allow that, we’ll keep players in front of us and try to not give up easy shots.
“We’re not counting on all five kids functioning perfectly on every possession. We’ll use more of a containment defense instead of trying to force mistakes.”
The Yaks have no doubt experienced some growing pains, as evidenced by their three recent losses. But with a team this young, such trials come with the territory.
One thing that won’t change, and a fact of which Oldham is acutely aware, is that competition at the top of the East Division is the toughest in the NWAACC. And that’s because in Columbia Basin’s Cheryl Holden and Walla Walla’s Bobbi Hazeltine, it has the best coaches — between them they’ve won five NWAACC titles.
“It’s been fun to watch Cody, Bobbi and Cheryl coach against each other,” Oldham says, “They’re hundreds of miles apart, but it seemed like they were always coaching against each other and they had three very different styles.
“As a basketball fan, that’s fun to watch.”
And now he’s part of it. He is part of evolving YVCC women’s hoops history, too.
And in that regard Greg Oldham seems fine with being the guy after the guy.
• Roger Underwood may be reached at (509) 577-7694 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.