Darin Spence said in a cellular phone interview on Saturday morning that the goal of returning to the four-year coaching ranks and doing what’s best for his family factored in his decision to leave Barton Community College after just one season.
Spence, Barton’s first-year women’s head basketball coach, was formally introduced for the same capacity at NCAA Division-II Newman University in Wichita on Friday.
After accepting the Barton position last July, Spence finds himself on the move again. He came to Barton late last summer after spending eight seasons as the head coach at D-I New Mexico State in Las Cruces, N.M.
A highly successful Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference head coach, who celebrated his 300th conference victory this past season, beating Butler at El Dorado, the school that gave him his first job in the conference, Spence noted that he enjoyed his short time, saying he has no animosity towards Barton. He also added that the opportunity to make a move “just happened.”
“A job opened and when you’ve been in the business a while and have been able to build some relationships, people know what you bring to the table and sometimes that opens some doors,” he said. “It just happened.
“At some point in time, we wanted to get back to the four-year level, but it had to be the right situation and it had to happen now or we were going to remain a part of Barton for four more years, so my son Drake could finish high school (in Great Bend). Once he started high school (this fall), we were going to stay put.”
A father of four, Spence said his family weighed heavily in his decision.
“It’s a situation that included our whole family and Newman University is a lot like where my wife and I met at (now-defunct) Marymount College in Salina,” Spence said. “Being at the NCAA level and being in a situation that has some potential, that’s what we were looking for.”
At Barton, Spence hit the ground running as the fifth head women’s coach in the last six years. He inherited the entire 2011-12 recruiting class of his predecessor, Keith Ferguson, who was asked to resign and now is an assistant at Jayhawk West rival Hutchinson.
The Lady Cougars finished 18-13 last season, including 8-8 in the West, losing to Labette in the opening round of an NJCAA Region VI playoff game in Parsons.
“There’s absolutely zero negative on the part of Barton at all,” Spence said. “We’ve really enjoyed Great Bend and we have some friends there and we’ve met some good people.
“I’m very thankful to Trevor (Rolfs, Barton’s first-year athletic director) and Carl (Heilman, BCC’s president). I think I fit at the time when they had a great need and at the same time, it was a good fit for us. Sometimes opportunities come when you least expect it.”
Spence has become a builder, someone who takes over a program, sometimes from scratch, constructing a foundation for it and building it up before moving on to another project.
“I have kind of evolved into that kind of a coach,” Spence said. “That’s what my wife Andre’ said. She said, ‘You’re a program builder and kind of a redirector.’
“It takes a lot of energy. It really does, but I think we did some really good things at Barton this year.”
Spence is the latest of three Barton head coaches to leave after only one season at the helm since early in the winter and the fourth head coach to exit BCC since last summer.
The domino effect started when Spence replaced Ferguson.
Barton women’s soccer head coach Shawn Uhlenhake was next to leave, departing for Western Texas College after coaching the Lady Cougars in the fall of 2011. Aaron Avila replaced Uhlenhake recently.
Former Barton head women’s volleyball coach Pat Hall, who left Pratt for Barton just last summer, led the Lady Cougars to the Jayhawk West crown and an NJCAA Region VI championship. He left Barton in March for the same post at Hutchinson and was replaced by Andrea Rasmussen, who was promoted from assistant to head coach a couple weeks ago.
Barton women’s assistant basketball coach Carter Kruger, a graduate of Adams State in Alamosa, Colo., has emerged as a candidate to replace Spence.
Spence lobbied for Kruger, but one has to wonder how much stock Barton will put into the word of a man that left after only one season, scrapping a rebuilding job he came far from finishing.
Kruger came on board at Barton when Spence was hired. He had spent the previous two seasons as a women’s assistant at Garden City.
“If they hire Carter Kruger, which they should,” Spence said. “ … things are falling in place at Barton and we had good in-state and out-of-state recruiting classes.
“I really think Carter can help push Barton to the next level. I think Carter is really, really good and I think he’s ready for that shot. He wants to be a head coach, and he deserves a shot. He’s right there and the kids like him, he’s a young up-and-coming coach with a lot of energy.”
Spence said he had not spoken to his former Barton team as a group about his departure.
“I’ve only talked to two of them, Blair (Bloomfield, a freshman forward) and Erin (Copeland, a freshman point guard),” Spence said.
At New Mexico State, Spence became the second-winningest coach in Aggies history with 109 wins.
“Darin will be an absolute great fit for Newman University,” Newman athletic director Vic Trilli said in a prepared statement that appears on the school’s web site.
“He has had success at every level of college basketball, including eight years at the Division I level. He brings an experience factor and big-time family values that will provide some stability for our program.”
Spence’s career coaching record is 444-222.
His coaching career started at his alma mater after his playing days ended with Marymount’s men’s basketball team. The 1985 graduate spent three years coaching at Marymount, including a 29-7 record in his first and only season as head coach during the 1987-88 campaign.
Spence spent the next five seasons as the head coach at Butler, recording a 117-47 record, with two Jayhawk Western Division titles, and a pair of trips to the NJCAA Region VI finals. He then transitioned to the men’s game, where he spent two seasons as an assistant at Cowley and two seasons as a head coach at Colby.
In 1997, Spence returned to Cowley, this time as the head women’s coach and over the next six years, he compiled a 171-26 record, and led Cowley to five Jayhawk East titles.
He also earned four Jayhawk East Coach of the Year awards after positioning the Tigers in the national rankings in each of his six seasons.
Besides Drake (14), their only boy, Spence and his wife Andre’ have three other kids — Sierra (24), Madison (22) and Sacia (17). Madison played for four years for Spence at New Mexico State.