Coaching is a very unique profession, it requires passion, patience, people skills, leadership, and a whole host of other things to propel any of the many who desire to join the head coaching ranks.
As Western Michigan University sought what would be the sixth basketball coach for the women’s basketball team, they looked for someone with all of those traits and found Shane Clipfell.
Coach Clipfell grew up in Colon, Michigan, just a little ways south of Kalamazoo, graduating from Colon high school as a veteran of four sports. But after playing football, basketball, baseball, and running track, coaching was not on Shane Clipfell’s career radar. “I had never had any inclination to coach growing up,” Clipfell explained, “But my high school coach, Mike Soles, asked me to be a seventh grade boy’s coach for him, shortly after I graduated. I tried it, because of that, and I’ve never stopped coaching since.”
From that point, Coach Clipfell is well traveled, starting at Glenn Oaks Community College as the head coach for three years, he proceeded to Eastern Michigan as an assistant coach for nine years and then to Michigan State where he has spent the last five years as an assistant.
Outside of the resume that a coach brings to the table, it is also important to look at how he wants to play and what kind of player he wants in his program. “We’ll look for skill first, I like kids that can score…. Probably the most important thing after we flag somebody as being talented enough we are really going to dive into their character because that is a really important part of building a team.”
With the different brands of players and teams comes different styles of play, each coach brings their own preferences to the forefront as the team takes on their identity, but as Coach Clipfell explained, his priority is winning.
“In almost every press conference, the response is going to be ‘I’m going to play an exciting and up tempo style of play,’ that’s what everyone wants to do,” as he found out, that includes the current team members, “It was pretty unanimous that they wanted to play that way, but my response to them was, ‘but what if that’s not the best suited way for us to play based on our strengths or our skills?’ That’s the most important thing. What you can expect to see, is a style that is conducive to the type of player we have.”
Coach Clipfell went on to add a little on what he would like to see the team doing on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, “We would like to play faster, we will be running a lot of ball-screens in the quarter court. Defensively, I would like to see solid player-to-player, with a little bit of pressure, in more of a half-court to three-quarter court sense that is more to dictate tempo. Ideally, I would like to see a team that does not give up lay-ups and does not foul jump shooters.” Clearly, like any good head coach, he emphasizes the fundamentals strongly, and understands what needs to be done to be successful as a team.
Part of that success comes from the relationship between players and coaches. During the interview process, he had a chance to talk with the players, “My initial approach was a little bit different,” Clipfell admitted, “I said, ‘I’m gonna tell you a little about myself, then I’m gonna ask you about yourself, and then if we have enough time, we can talk about basketball.”
While it was a different approach, Clipfell believes the players bought into it, “We can’t really talk about basketball until we know something about each other. That was my goal. While it is a business at this level, the relationships between players and coaches, being a people person, that is going to be at the top of my list as a coach.”
After an 8-22 finish last year, including 5-11 in conference, it is going to be a steep climb for the Broncos to get back to the top, but Coach Clipfell said he isn’t going to rush the process.
“I like to measure things based on seeing progress, wins and losses don’t really define very accurately the success of the program. It is what we are judged on, but the first thing I want to do is implement my culture in this team and this program. The reaction to that will determine what our record will look like and how successful we will be.”
With that in mind, coaches are always looking to the future, and the new season for this Bronco team will be very interesting. As a member of the Michigan State staff, he witnessed a game, very early in the season, between the Spartans and Broncos which was won handily by Michigan State, but as that was only the second game of the season for a very young Bronco team, Clipfell pointed out that it isn’t a very fair assessment of the team. “Watching the team at the beginning of the year versus the end of the year is very different. I’m going to start watching film on them feverishly and then I’ll try to give them an evaluation based on what I see from that.”
As he has just been installed as head coach, the staff is still a work in progress, but Clipfell did hint that he already had plans for one of his assistants, “It’s a no brainer for me,” he remarked. While Coach Clipfell also stated he had reached out to several other people he would like to have in, part of any coaching staff is balance, “I’d like to have some veterans and some youth, to have a nice blend. You have to put it together one piece at a time.”
The staff is one of the most important things for the head coach to do, but it is far from the only thing. There is connecting with the current team, kids that have committed to the program, both this year and the next few, getting in touch with the families of the players. Then there is the recruiting that Clipfell and his staff will begin to do. As Clipfell will begin to fill holes in the roster and any other areas of the program, the future looks bright with Shane Clipfell taking the reins of the women’s basketball program.