Today’s Fireside Chat is a special one. How often do you get to interview your very own head coach? The guys running the show at LAS asked me to and it sounded like a great opportunity to really show you guys what our program is all about. After all, our coach is the one who founded the program as an undergrad up here in Moscow. So, without further ado, I give to you an interview with Idaho’s own Coach Mike Band.
LAS: To start, can you quickly run through your playing background and what you’re studying here at Idaho? What brought you to U of I?
Mike Band: Well, honestly what brought me to Idaho was laziness. For some reason I really didn’t start thinking about what school I wanted to go to until spring semester of senior year of high school. By that time it was too late to explore too many other options. I knew for a fact that I didn’t care to go to High School 2.0 (Boise State), and a more wretched hive of scum and villainy than Idaho State you will not find, so the U was the obvious choice.
When you first got here, were you planning to play lacrosse at the collegiate level?
Mike Band: I certainly was. I didn’t start playing lacrosse until the summer between junior and senior years of high school. Accordingly, when I graduated I only had a season under my belt and my familiarity with the sport at the intercollegiate level was about as honed as my skills as a player (read: terrible). I had heard dark whispers about a club that may have existed at the University of Idaho, but when I arrived I found that if there ever was such a club it was now long gone.
What got you motivated to try and put a team together? Was it hard trying to get guys together the first few years to get the team going?
Mike Band: It became quickly apparent that if I wanted to continue playing lacrosse, I was going to have to put in the work to make that happen. It is a testament to the quality of this sport that after only a year of playing it I refused to be denied the opportunity to continue. The first year was rough. I found a few guys who were interested, but they were heartless (a term that has found a comfortable home in my vocabulary to describe guys with only a passing interest in playing). I did, however, meet Scott Hamilton, who became integral in getting the team off the ground and is a good friend to this day. The next year, several of my teammates from high school (including Brian Johnson, with whom I tag-teamed officer-leadership of the club for the rest of undergrad) and a good number of other players entered the school and that’s when we were actually able to get a team together. Our first tournament was in October 2004 at the now-defunct Gonzaga Invitational with a goalie named “Cheese” and an attackman named “Buzz”.
In our first game we beat WSU in overtime courtesy of a top-shelf rocket from Dewey Neighbor (his fists were in the air before it even hit the net). It was a win that would have to sustain us through the rough times ahead.
The next season we petitioned to join the PNCLL, not knowing precisely what to expect. It was at that point that a series of typical baby-club tragedies begun to beset us. First, the guy put in charge of ordering uniforms ordered us kits that said “Lacrosse” on both the shorts and jerseys — so long credibility. Next, our first goalie quit less than two weeks before our first ever game because he “wasn’t having fun.” We played our first real game at in Seattle against Washington looking like goons with a longpole, Todd Christiansen, in the cage.
What was your most memorable game playing for the Vandals?
Mike Band: Suffice it so say there’ve been a number of games I’ll never forget, but the most memorable was my last game and our first win over rival Boise State. Prior to that game BSU had always had a strong advantage. That was the beginning of what has turned into an extremely competitive rivalry. It was a 1-goal game the entire way, but we never trailed. The last minute was absolute mayhem. It was the greatest moment of and a storybook ending to my college career.
How did you come to fill the head coach position at Idaho?
Mike Band: It was a mix of necessity and obsession I suppose. Coach Ryan Hanavan (07-08) had finished his PhD and been forced to take a job out of state. I had run out my eligibility but was still going to be around finishing up law school. I was the obvious choice and, despite the problems that a commitment like coaching poses to success in law school, I would be damned if I’d let the team take a step backwards because I wasn’t man enough to step in.
What’s it like going from playing one year to coaching all of the guys you played with the next year? Did you feel that they accepted you well as the new coach?
Mike Band: Y’know, this was honestly my biggest concern coming in. I have to credit all the guys for handling the transition as well as they did. I definitely felt that there was a good deal of scrutiny at first, and it seemed like sometimes my orders turned into discussions whereas with Hanavan there would have been fewer questions. I was fortunate to have a pretty successful Fall 2008 campaign and I think that got a lot of the older guys to buy in.
What’s it been like trying to juggle law school and coaching?
Mike Band: The degree of difficulty has certainly varied. Law school is a tremendous pain, but luckily academics have always come rather easily. I learned in undergrad that time management is one of life’s most important skills — in 4 years of eligibility, I missed one practice ever — and I preach that to my team, especially the freshmen. I view both law school and the team as non-optional commitments. Both must be done and done well. Once you get that ingrained, all you have to do is do work. I will admit that I’ve probably given priority to the team, though.
Describe the difference you see in the team from the first few years to the last few.
Mike Band: Aside from the obvious differences in record, I think the difference is internal legitimacy. I get a lot of credit for “turning Idaho around,” but the fact of the matter is (and I don’t believe this can be overstated) that Ryan Hanavan did what it took and is responsible for the 180 our program has taken. During his two years, Ryan forced a lot of good lacrosse players off this team because he demanded dedication and discipline and wasn’t interested in good players with selfish attitudes. That changed everything and has set a precedent that has allowed me to go forward far more easily. The biggest difference? Before we had a lot of guys who played lacrosse; now we have lacrosse players. There’s an important distinction between those two types of players.
With the PNCLL’s 1A/1AA split, how does that affect Idaho and their chances of reaching the playoffs?
Mike Band: Vastly. I always dislike questions like this because it begs a politically correct answer. I’ll go so far as to say that if we miss the playoffs I’ll view it as a personal failure.
How does the team look after fall ball and what are your expectations for the spring?
Mike Band: Honestly this is the best team we’ve ever had. One of the characteristics that the earlier Idaho squads had that the recent ones have struggled with is team chemistry. This year, I truly believe we’re rediscovering the camaraderie that allowed the team to persevere so many losses at its genesis. Combine that chemistry with the skill of the guys on the 2010 team and my expectations are a deep playoff run. I will be satisfied with nothing less.
Any big games that you are looking forward to most this year? Any big plans for Spring break?
Mike Band: Of course, we always look forward to the Boise State game. But that shouldn’t detract or distract from any other game we play. This is a season where we have a legitimate shot to win or lose to any team we’ve scheduled. As for spring break, the plan is to head to sunny Cal-ee-forn-I-yay and play some teams in the San Diego area.
Being out of eligibility, how do you get your lax in now?
Mike Band: Any way I can. Summer is my season now; in addition to summer league, I run a men’s team based out of Boise called the Scallywags (formerly team Ridaho) comprised of the best collegiate and post-collegiate players in the area (we’ve got guys from Idaho, BSU, BYU, Utah, Chapman, and Arizona last time I checked). We’ve had a lot of success the last two summers. Once I get back down to Boise full-time I’m going to figure out a way to get an indoor league going on during the winter.
Note: the best part about being out of eligibility is that I will NEVER use a 2010 legal head. Ever.
So when the law student and coaching hats come off, what’s your drink of choice? Best bar game to play?
Mike Band: Newcastle. Shuffleboard. And this seems like the best spot to say: GO BOLTZ!
What’s at the top of your Christmas list this year?
Mike Band: This thing:
Also, maybe some Adrenaline socks that don’t wear out in 5 minutes. Oh wait, those don’t exist. Nike 4 lyfe.
That rack is something many of us could use. Where in the world can we get it? Thanks Mike, for taking some time out to talk with Lax All Stars. We wish you and the Vandals the best this season!
This has been another Lax All Stars Fireside Chat. Stay tuned to the LAS Network for more interviews, and see our full list here.