Bard’s Lenahan departs for Willamette

Michael Lenahan, who served as the head men’s basketball coach at Bard College (N.Y.) the past two seasons, has been hired by Willamette University as the head men’s basketball coach for the Bearcats, Director of Athletics Rob Passage announced today. Lenahan will begin his duties on June 1.

“We are very excited to have Mike joining our Bearcat Family,” Passage commented. “He rose to the top of a very competitive applicant pool with his combination of head coaching experience, familiarity with the Northwest Conference and our region, and his appreciation for the role athletics plays in the lives of our student-athletes. I think he will have an immediate impact on our program and look forward to him getting started.”

“We are going to focus on establishing ‘The Willamette Way’ from day one, a culture of growth, fun, togetherness, respect, and development,” Lenahan said. “We are going to develop an up-tempo offensive style of structured freedom that is fun to play and watch. We are going to strive to be a team that if anyone is watching a game or a practice they will see a team that is super together and competes every possession.”

Lenahan has significant coaching experience at the NCAA Division I and NCAA Division III levels. He began his collegiate coaching as the assistant video coordinator at the University of California-Berkeley in NCAA Division I from 2007-11. Cal qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 2008-09 and 2009-10, and won the Pac-10 title in 2009-10.

He was the basketball recruiting coordinator and director of analytics at the University of California-Irvine in NCAA Division I from 2017-19 after working as the director of basketball operations at UC-Irvine from 2011-14. During the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons, the Anteaters won Big West regular season titles, and in 2013-14 UCI also was selected for the National Invitation Tournament (NIT). In 2018-19, Lenahan helped UC-Irvine win the Big West championship, followed by a first round victory in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history for a season record of 31-6.

While starting his coaching career, Lenahan earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Media Studies from UC-Berkeley in 2011 and completed a Master of Arts degree in Coaching and Athletic Administration at Concordia University-Irvine in 2019. Also in 2019, Lenahan was selected for the Under Armour 30 Under 30, which honors young coaches in college basketball each year.

In 2014-15, Lenahan joined the coaching staff at Whitman College as an assistant men’s basketball coach. He helped guide Whitman to a 20-6 record that year, including a 14-2 record in the Northwest Conference. After coaching at UC-Irvine, he returned to Whitman as an assistant coach in 2019-20 and contributed to a team that went 20-8 overall. The Blues were 13-3 in the NWC in the regular season. Whitman went on to win the NWC Tournament and qualified for the NCAA Division III Tournament.

Lenahan was the associate head coach at the University of Redlands (Calif.) during the 2020-21 season. He helped in the process of rebuilding the Redlands men’s basketball program. As the academic coordinator, Lenahan helped the Bulldogs earn a 3.22 team grade point average.

At Bard, Lenahan began the process of rebuilding the men’s basketball program, which was 0-24 in 2019-20 before he arrived. Lenahan earned the most wins in program history for a head coach during their first two seasons at Bard. His team set a school record with 20 three-point baskets in a game and earned its first-ever win at St. Lawrence University (N.Y.).

Becoming the head coach at Willamette returns Lenahan to the West Coast, where he has many successful basketball memories. He’s also returning to the Northwest Conference.

“I knew about Willamette from my time at Whitman and I was always impressed with the quality of student-athletes, how its programs were run across the board, as well as the high-quality academic environment,” Lenahan commented. “When the head men’s basketball coaching job opened, I thought it would be a tremendous fit, and once I got on campus at Willamette, the more certain I was that was the case. You can feel how relationship-based Willamette is all across the campus community, and the commitment to provide an outstanding experience to the student-athletes both academically, socially and athletically, that will serve them well both at Willamette and beyond.”

Willamette has won 22 NWC championships in men’s basketball. The Bearcats won the NAIA Division III National Championship in 1992-93 before joining NCAA Division III in 1998-99.

“It means a great deal to be hired as the next head coach of the Bearcats, a program with a storied tradition and a school with such a strong academic environment,” Lenahan said. “I look forward to building the program into one that can live up to the tradition of success for Bearcat Athletics that has been established by the coaches and administration throughout the Athletics Department.

“Working for four outstanding coaches across NCAA Division I and NCAA Division III, as well as working as a head coach myself for the past two years, has provided great experience to prepare me to lead the Willamette men’s basketball program,” Lenahan noted. “At each college, I’ve been a part of tremendous growth, and I will use my experience from that to help build the Willamette program on and off the court. We are aiming to be a program that consistently competes well in the NWC, but that also has student-athletes that pursue their passions off the court, succeed in the classroom, and are involved in the Willamette community.”

Lenahan looks forward to coaching the current WU basketball players and working with new players who join the team for the 2023-24 season. He’s already seen positive signs that the players are willing to strive for success. “Throughout the interview process, I could feel the passion, drive, and togetherness of the student-athletes,” he said. “It is clear that I am coming into a program with a strong culture, full of student-athletes willing to put in the work to improve the win-loss record. I look forward to building on the culture.”

In addition, Lenahan is ready to support the team’s efforts off the court, both in the classroom and in the community.

“Everywhere I’ve been, we were very involved in both the campus and the local community, through youth basketball clinics and other community service projects,” Lenahan commented. “I look forward to finding ways to fulfill Willamette’s motto of ‘Not unto ourselves alone are we born’ through community involvement both on campus and in the Salem community.”

Story: Robert McKinney, Willamette Assistant Athletics Director, Communications

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