WALLA WALLA, Wash. – Eric Bridgeland, who polished his coaching resume by winning three consecutive Northwest Conference titles earlier this decade, is the new men’s basketball coach at Whitman College.
Bridgeland replaces Skip Molitor, who left the coaching ranks this spring after 33 years to become an assistant athletic director at Whitman. Bridgeland, 37, coached most recently at NCAA Division I Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.
"Eric is one of the top young coaches on the West Coast, and we are thrilled to have him join our staff," Whitman athletic director Dean Snider says. "He has a tremendous track record of success. His recruiting and coaching abilities, along with his work ethic and sense of professionalism and integrity, are unsurpassed."
Whitman, a charter member of the nine-school, 84-year-old Northwest Conference (NWC), is affiliated nationally with NCAA Division III.
Bridgeland, a native of Rockford, Ill., coached at the University of Puget Sound, an NWC member, from 2001 through 2006. In his final three seasons, Puget Sound posted a 44-4 conference record while winning three consecutive titles and capping each season by advancing to the NCAA Division III Sweet 16. He was twice named NWC Coach of the Year, and his 87.3 winning percentage (69-10) over those three seasons was the second-highest among 400-plus Division III schools.
After the 2005-06 season, Bridgeland took a position as assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at 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).
When Pepperdine head coach Vance Walberg resigned due to health reasons in January 2008, Bridgeland took over as the interim coach, 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 arch-rival Loyola Marymount and the University of Portland, plus the team’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, 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 he is thrilled with both his new position at Whitman and with his return to NCAA Div. III, where athletic scholarships are not allowed.
"NCAA Division III is without question the purest level of athletics in the country," Bridgeland says. "The student in student-athlete tends to suffer at the Division I and Division II levels, but that isn’t the case at Division III. Whitman is recognized as one of the country’s elite national liberal arts & sciences 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."
"With president George Bridges committed to improving the overall quality of Whitman athletics, this is a great time to join the Whitman staff," Bridgeland adds. "I want to thank president Bridges, provost Lori Bettison-Varga and (athletic director) Dean Snider for this wonderful opportunity. I am absolutely sold on the quality and character of the administration at Whitman. We’re not talking good people; we’re talking great people."
On the basketball floor, Bridgeland pins his aggressive playing style on the twin concepts of pressure defense and attacking offense. "I don’t think there is a more enjoyable style for the athletes to play or for the fans to watch," he says.
His basketball program places the highest priority on helping shape student athletes into strong leaders. Core values for the program, he says, start with honesty, integrity, trust and brutal reality (freedom of expression). They also encourage students to excel in common sense and pursue unparalleled excellence.
Bridgeland says he knows of no greater leadership training ground than the one provided by team athletics. "Where else can students learn how to set goals, sacrifice personally to achieve collectively, handle adversity and develop other life tools?" he says. "All of that comes while chasing national championship. I don’t know that any class could be any more rewarding."
Bridgeland’s previous experience at the NCAA Div. III level includes two years as the head coach at the University of California-Santa Cruz and one year as an assistant at Portland’s Lewis & Clark College, another of the NWC schools.
His assistant coaching record also includes stops at NCAA Div. I Stephen F. Austin State University and three NCAA Div. II schools -- Cal State-Bakersfield , University of West Florida, and Colorado School of Mines.
Bridgeland and his spouse, Brie, welcomed their first child, daughter Sydney, in early April. The family hopes to complete its move to Walla Walla by mid-summer.
Dave Holden, Sports Information Director
Whitman College, Walla Walla, Wash.
(509) 527-5902; email@example.com