For the most part, Trevor Rolfs can understand where Darin Spence is coming from.
After all, just last summer, Rolfs took over as Barton Community College’s athletic director after serving as head coach for men’s basketball at Pratt the previous seven seasons in the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference Western Division.
When Spence left his post as Barton’s women’s head basketball coach after just one season late last week, taking over in the same capacity at NCAA Division-II Newman University in Wichita, Rolfs acknowledged that he was disappointed, fully knowing he had lost a quality coach.
But Rolfs knows as well as anyone the realities of the comings-and-goings in the junior college ranks. The norm for a juco player is two years — barring a redshirt season or an injury — and they move on, a four-year school the ultimate goal.
Sometimes coaches are one-and-done. After just one year, they’re off to the so-called greener pastures.
But sometimes that’s just the nature of the beast, according to Rolfs.
“There are lots of things that factor into those decisions,” Rolfs said Monday.
Spence was formally introduced as head coach at Newman last Friday in Wichita during a press conference. He is the fifth women’s head basketball coach in the last six years to leave Barton.
“You can have family, know what you want to do time-wise and you might know where you want to live geographically,” Rolfs said. “In Coach Spence’s case, first of all, I would like to thank him graciously from the bottom of my heart. For us to find a coach of that caliber at that time of the year was pretty amazing.
“We’re going to miss Darin.”
Rewind to last summer, when on Aug. 1, the fall semester just days away, Keith Ferguson was asked to resign as he prepared for his third season, reportedly following a review of him and his program in late July, not long after Rolfs came aboard.
Spence previously served as the women’s head basketball coach at D-I New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, N.M., where he resigned after eight seasons, according to the Las Cruces (N.M.) Sun News, as the No. 2 winningest coach in the program’s history with 109 victories.
Spence learned of the Barton opening through the coaching grapevine.
Even though it turned out to be for the short-term, Barton had the vibe that it had finally found the guy to add some stability in guiding a women’s program that was in dire need.
Already a successful coach in the Jayhawk Conference, who would later capture his 300th conference win against Butler, the school that gave him his first job, Spence was a quick fix.
He helped Barton when it was in a pinch, and Barton helped the former Marymount College basketball player and graduate to get back to his coaching roots in the heartland.
After guiding the Lady Cougars to an 18-13 record in his only season at Barton, Spence, who said he was looking at things for the long-term, decided to make the jump to the four-year level for a second time in his coaching career.
“He had been at a D-I school for eight years and the stability that comes from being at a four-year school,” Rolfs said. “ … You have players for three, four and sometimes five years … sometimes you get accustomed to that and its a little more comfortable situation for you.
“I saw it at Pratt when I was a basketball coach. Junior college is a stepping-stone for players and a lot of young coaches alike. It’s a place to come back or get back in for some veteran coaches. It’s a lot of different arenas for a lot of different people.”
And sometimes it’s the proverbial stepping-stone to a higher level.
Rolfs hearkened back to the days before he decided to make his move from Pratt.
“That was the thing with me coming to Barton,” he said. “I loved Pratt and I loved coaching junior-college basketball, but Barton was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up at the time.
“We know the Spences were glad to be back in Kansas, and then an NCAA Division-II job came open around here. The reality it is, the bottom line is, to keep a good coach around at a junior college for an extended amount of time is very rare.”
Rolfs acknowledged that it has been a bonus for Barton to have longevity in tenured coaches like Cougars head baseball coach Mike Warren (25 years) and BCC men’s head basketball coach Craig Fletchall (seven years).
Yet the revolving door continues to churn, a fact of the juco grind.
Rolfs said he’d like to bring in someone that could add gusto and stability to the program for the next few seasons.
After that, who knows?
“I don’t like to use the word ‘loyalty’ a lot,” Rolfs said. “While it’s a good thing and it’s important, loyalty is very hard to gauge in a junior-college coach.
“If you can find a better situation or a better job, sometimes its geographically better for one’s family and sometimes it’s timing … you’re thinking loosely when you think you’re finding a better job because finding a better job is different for everybody.”