The face that has the longest coaching tenure at Central Lakes College will be absent next year.
Dennis Eastman, a fixture at CLC for the past 15 years as the Raiders' football and women's basketball coach, as well as a stint as the softball coach, received a one-year sabbatical and will take the 2005-06 year off.
The idea of a sabbatical came about last October when the physical education department was trying to come up with ideas to expand the programs it offered.
"I thought to myself, 'Hey, I could do that,'" said Eastman, who will be attending school in the Twin Cities. "I would need to go back to school to get some more credits before I could teach in those areas. I talked to my wife and son and they said go for it. I applied for the sabbatical and found out in February that I was approved.
Longtime Raiders football and women's basketball coach Dennis Eastman talked to his players during a game this season. Eastman, who's spent 15 years coaching at CLC, is taking a sabbatical next year.
"Taking a sabbatical never really entered my mind before this. In the last four or five years I've seen other coaches do it so I decided to give it a try."
Eastman was the head football coach from 1994-1998, before returning to the sidelines in 2003. In his first two seasons back coaching football, the Raiders turned in identical 2-7 records. But last year player numbers rose significantly with a number of players returning for the 2005 season.
The Raiders women's basketball team, which Eastman has coached since he came to CLC, will have two of the state's best guards to build around next year and are on the verge of turning around a season that started 0-14.
"I'm leaving a football program with a lot of freshmen coming back and we're right on the edge of turning the corner," Eastman said. "It's the same with the basketball team. With Courtney (Stach) and Kim (Rosecrans) coming back we have the top backcourt in the state right now. It's hard to think that you're going to turn that all over to someone else. But it's the right time for me to do this."
Longtime Raiders defensive coordinator Lowell Scearcy is the top candidate to replace Eastman as the head football coach, but nothing has been announced officially yet.
Scearcy has spent 32 years with the CLC football team and in the past two years has done most of the recruiting. To Eastman, Scearcy would be the obvious choice to succeed him next year.
"Lowell's been here for so long and for the last year or so he's acted as a co-head coach because I've had him take over so much," said Eastman. "In the last few years I've learned to let the assistants take over more. When I was younger I tried to do everything and it got to the point where I couldn't because it's all so time consuming. What I've learned is to give more responsibility to my assistants."
What: In an effort to expand CLC's physical education department, football and women's basketball coach Dennis Eastman will be on a one-year sabbatical while he goes back to school.
Who will take over the women's basketball program is still a question mark. Rob Mestas, who's the director of student activities and assisted the men's basketball team this season, is a candidate. But Mestas is a member of the Minnesota Association of Profesional Employees union and to coach would have to sign a faculty contract under a different union, a practice Minnesota State Colleges and Universities frowns upon.
"Our administration is trying to figure out if it can work for someone in Rob's position to pick up faculty credits," CLC Athletic Director Jane Peterson said. "His job is 40 hours a week so there's a big problem defining how many hours he would be coaching.
"Rob coaching the women's team is just one possibility we're looking at. He's not the final solution. We're just trying to figure if he's even an option."
Peterson said the CLC administration was hoping to get an answer from MnSCU on whether Mestas would be able to coach by Friday. The job has not been posted for other coaching candidates.
Having no women's basketball coach in place raises the question of recruiting. With the high school basketball season done, now is a critical time to be contacting and bringing possible recruits to campus.
Eastman said trying to sell a recruit to come to play for the Raiders next year is becoming more difficult each passing day there's no head coach in place.
"Basketball recruiting is a little harder to do because we don't have anything concrete with the coaching situation yet," Eastman said. "When kids come in here they want to see a face and my face isn't going to be the face they'll see next year. We have to get the coaching situation solidified."
For Eastman, hiring Mestas would be ideal because of his familiarity with the program and kids, as well as his knowledge of the game as a former Division I college player.
"Hiring Rob to coach the women's team would be the easiest thing to do," said Eastman. "He's come to our practices, he's worked with our players, they know him and they're comfortable with him."
TROY GUNDERSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5865.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.