After spending 5 seasons building conference rival University of Puget Sound into a national power on the strength of 3 straight Northwest Conference titles (’04, ’05, ‘06) and Sweet 16 appearances, it was a ‘Slam Dunk’ decision in 2008 for Whitman athletic director Dean Snider to tab Eric Bridgeland as leader of the Missionary men’s basketball program. “Eric is one of the top young coaches on the west coast and we are thrilled to have him join our staff. He has a tremendous track record of success. His recruiting and coaching abilities, along with his work ethic and sense of professionalism are unsurpassed.”
Inheriting a Missionary program with just a single conference win in 2007 and 1 winning season in its previous 20 overall, Bridgeland went to work. After just 2 recruiting classes, Bridgeland wasted no time in securing the best ‘Back to Back’ seasons in Whitman history with consecutive 2nd place finishes in the tough NWC in ’11 and ‘12. Bridgeland credits this miraculous turnaround of the Missionary program to focusing on building elite, relationship-based cultures, while emphasizing excellence in both the classroom and on the court.
After just 2 recruiting classes, the success of Bridgeland led programs is staggering (5 seasons total):
- Overall Record: 106 wins, 26 losses (.803%)
- NWC Record: 66 wins, 14 losses (.825%)
- (3) NWC Titles, (2) 2nd Place Finishes
- (3) NCAA ‘Sweet 16’ Appearances
- (1) NCAA ‘Elite 8’ Appearance
At Whitman College:
- Best Back to Back Winning Seasons Ever
- Most Wins in Back to Back Seasons in History (37)
- Best Back to Back NWC Record Ever (22-10)
- Back to Back 2nd Place Finishes – Best Finishes Ever
- Runner-Up in NWC Title Game – 1st Appearance Ever
- Made Post-Season Playoffs for just 4th, 5th Times Since 1948
- 1st Home Playoff Game/Win since 1985
- Defeated #1, Previously Undefeated Team in the Country (Whitworth)
- 2/15/11 - 1st Victory vs. Arch-Rival Whitworth since 1998, Snapping 1-41 Streak
- Defeated NWC Rival Lewis and Clark Twice – Snapped 1win – 26 loss streak vs.
- 8-Game Win Streak – Best Ever
- Swept 2 NWC Road Trips – 1st Time Ever
- Ended Both Seasons Ranked in NCAA West Regional – 1st Time Ever
- Multiple Sell Outs of the Sherwood Center
- 1st Win over Arch Rival Whitworth in Spokane Since 1986
- WC Sr. David Michaels MVP of NWC, All-American – 1st Ever
- Sent NWC MVP, David Michaels to NBA Combine (Portsmouth, VA) – 1st Time Ever
- Only the 5th NCAA Div. III player ever in its 60yr history to be invited
- Developed 2 Professionals:
- David Michaels (Holland)
- JP Alvarez (Ecuador)
Prior to the Northwest Conference, Bridgeland’s first head coaching opportunity came at the University of California, Santa Cruz. In just his first season, Bridgeland nearly tripled the team’s wins from the previous year, while sweeping archrival UC San Diego; a first for UCSC. Bridgeland left the Slugs after the best back-to-back seasons in UCSC men’s basketball history in ’00 and ’01.
After guiding the Loggers of Puget Sound to the 2nd highest winning percentage in NCAA Division III over his final 3 seasons, Bridgeland became the main assistant and recruiting coordinator at NCAA Division I Pepperdine. His 2007 recruiting class received a No. 18 NCAA Div. I national ranking (Hoopscooponline.com), and his 2008 class earned a "Top 3" ranking for all mid-major basketball programs (CBSsportsline).
Bridgeland took over as interim head coach in January 2008, leading the Waves to a 5-9 record down the stretch despite a depleted roster that featured just six scholarship players, including five freshmen.
Pepperdine’s late-season wins included two victories each over archrival Loyola Marymount and the University of Portland, as well as the program’s first West Coast Conference (WCC) playoff win in three years. One practice after the coaching change, Bridgeland led Pepperdine to a near upset (79-74) of St. Mary’s in Moraga, which held a Top 25 national ranking earlier in the season. Under Bridgeland, the Waves also took eventual WCC champion San Diego to the wire twice, losing by three and four points.
Bridgeland earned his bachelor’s degree (history, psychology) in 1993 at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, where he earned All-Canadian honors in each of his four seasons as a 6-foot-2 guard. He still reigns as Manitoba’s career scoring leader. He also was part of the Canadian National Basketball program from 1990 to 1993, and he played professionally for the Winnipeg Thunder during the 1993-94 season.
Bridgeland says life lasting relationships is what brought him to Whitman and back to NCAA Division III. “I found that in NCAA Division I, men’s basketball was a business and not a learning tool that, to me, team athletics is meant for. Team athletics built me; it gave me confidence and instilled in me leadership tools for life that I use to this day. To give this gift back and be a part of the positive development of young people, is what I’m in it for. Our program’s ideology focuses on the critical core values of honesty, integrity and trust; in my opinion, these get tainted at higher divisions.”
"NCAA Division III is without question the purest level of athletics in the country," Bridgeland says. Whitman is recognized as one of our country’s elite national liberal arts colleges, and I’m excited about the opportunity to lead the men’s basketball program to this same level of accomplishment. We will strive to be the best in the nation, both on the floor and in the classroom."
Bridgeland and his spouse, Brie, have one daughter (Sydney, 4) and one newborn son (Ethan).