After breaking into coaching at the junior high and high school levels, alum Thad Sankey felt like he was ready for a change. He made a bold move. He took a chance on a shot at coaching at the college level. Sankey, his wife Sarah and their two sons (now three sons) moved from Oklahoma to Seward, Neb. The only promise was that Sankey would have the opportunity to serve a graduate assistant role.
Said Sankey, “I did plan on it being a two-year opportunity while balancing it with a family. We had (sons) Eli and Micah and Sarah was staying home with them. It was tough to balance those responsibilities.”
It took only one year on head coach Drew Olson’s women’s basketball staff before Sankey secured a full-time job. Fast forward to the present. Sankey has just finished his fifth season as head coach at Concordia University, Ann Arbor. Sankey is a standout among recent coaches who have served graduate assistant roles on Bulldog coaching staffs. Others like Sankey are popping up in full-time positions at an impressive rate. Current graduate assistants such as Dan Ball (Bowling Green) and Logan Wagner (Mount Marty) have already nailed down gigs for the 2018-19 academic year.
There are many other recent examples. Former golf graduate assistant Shawn Rodehorst is in the midst of his first season coaching the women’s golf team at NCAA Division II University of Nebraska-Kearney while ex-women’s soccer graduate assistant Kim Uetrecht is just settling in after recently being named head women’s soccer coach at NCAA Division III North Park University in Chicago.
Each of these young coaches took a piece of Concordia with them and are implementing some of the tools of the trade they learned in Seward. Sankey had never coached females before his stint on Olson’s staff in 2012-13.
“The biggest thing that stood out to me one of the first days I was on Drew’s staff was getting ready for camps,” Sankey said. “All of the players came back. The seniors that year, like Katie Rich, were just really incredible people. The relationships were so positive. The players connected with each other and the coaches. It was awesome.”
The high profile nature of Olson’s program likely did not hurt Sankey’s chances of quickly landing a full-time job. Sankey felt good about the prospect of also spending the 2013-14 campaign in Seward, but the opportunity in Ann Arbor became too good to pass up. The Cardinals have benefitted from the hiring of a coach who prioritizes a value system that aligns the mission of Concordias.
“Having our team reflect the mission of our university is the No. 1 thing for me,” Sankey said. “As a first-year head coach it’s not just about coaching on the court. I was going recruiting and looking for the right people. How do you communicate to recruits and families what your program stands for? Part of it is painting a vision of who we are and making it happen on a daily basis.”
Rodehorst did not immediately get into full-time coaching after finishing his master’s degree in 2017, but the coaching bug never left him. The opening in his hometown Kearney seemed like the perfect fit. He took the keys to a car that had motored into the regional tournament prior to his tenure with the Lopers.
He figured out there are big differences between being a GA and being the head coach. Said Rodehorst, “I learned what it’s like to be the only guy. You weren’t able to just let the head coach deal with stuff. I have to have those conversations that I didn’t have before. With no assistants you deal with all of the little things.”
A three-time all-conference performer, Rodehorst credits Concordia head golf coach Brett Muller with teaching him the ins and outs of running a program on a daily basis. Rodehorst calls Muller one of the most organized people he’s met.
Uetrecht made her way to Seward in time to be on Greg Henson’s first women’s soccer coaching staff. Uetrecht assisted for the breakthrough 2014 Bulldog squad that upset Hastings in the GPAC championship game and reached the NAIA national tournament. Uetrecht saw firsthand what it takes to build a championship caliber program. Uetrecht is fond of her time at Concordia.
“There are great people at Concordia,” Uetrecht said. “It makes Concordia what it is. There are great passionate people. Greg no doubt was passionate about his job and about soccer. Coming in at the beginning, I got to learn what it’s like to build a program, which definitely helps me in my career. When I came to Adrian (College in Michigan) we had to change the culture and it was nice to have that background with Greg and being able to learn from him. He introduced me to what it takes to have a successful program.”
Now Uetrecht is the leader of her own program. She was named to her post on Jan. 21, less than two years removed from her final days as a Concordia GA. She’s made a fast rise. “One thing I’m challenged by now is trying to find some difference makers in the next recruiting class,” Uetrecht said. “But I’ve learned how to value people as people and not just as players.”
She added that she plans to throw in a few lines and methods preferred by Henson. She added, “With coaching everyone tries to steal the best material they learn from everyone else. I remember some of the more humorous things Greg would say that I might throw out there.”
There are plenty of others that have made similar career moves (see list below). A three-year graduate assistant for head coach Jason Weides’ men’s soccer program, Nico Luque completed his first season at NCAA Division I University of South Carolina Upstate in 2017. In addition, a number of former grad assistants have been promoted and have remained at Concordia, including Bryce Berg (baseball), Wes Coomes (football) and Lance Korell (men’s basketball).
It’s also worth mentioning that several other recent Bulldog student-athletes have found gainful employment as college coaches. Former NAIA Division II women’s basketball player of the year Bailey Morris holds down a full-time position as an assistant women’s basketball coach at Briar Cliff. Additionally, 2017 graduate Zach Lurz obtained the job as throws coach for the Dakota Wesleyan track and field programs. (Lurz is one of several from the track and field programs that appear on coaching staffs around the country). Of course, there are many other examples of Bulldogs past and present that have become coaches at various levels of competition.
Surely Sankey is not regretting the risk he took in 2012. For so many like Sankey, a graduate assistantship at Concordia has opened up doors for careers in coaching.
Recent CUNE GA’s make move up coaching ladder
Dan Ball (2016-18): accepted position as goalkeeper coach at NCAA D-I Bowling Green State University
Bryce Berg (2015-16): full-time assistant baseball coach at CUNE
Wes Coomes (2015-17): full-time assistant football coach at CUNE
Lance Korell (2014-15): full-time assistant men’s basketball coach at CUNE
Nico Luque (2014-17): full-time assistant men’s soccer coach at NCAA D-I University of South Carolina Upstate
Shawn Rodehorst (2015-17): head women’s golf coach at NCAA D-II University of Nebraska-Kearney
Thad Sankey (2012-13): head women’s basketball coach at Concordia University, Ann Arbor
Kim Uetrecht (2013-15): head women’s soccer coach at NCAA D-III North Park University
Logan Wagner (2017-18): accepted position as head men’s and women’s golf coach and assistant women’s basketball coach at Mount Marty