The Marian and Northern Lehigh boys' basketball programs had a lot in common entering this season.
The Colts and the Bulldogs each won at least 19 games in 2009-10. Both teams captured their respective division title and went on to compete in their league championship. Both teams also qualified for the district playoffs. Their were also championships for both teams as Northern Lehigh won the Colonial League title for the third time in four years and Marian walked away with the District 11 Class A trophy for the first time in 11 years.
Now, roughly midway through their 2010-11 campaigns, both programs have another thing in common. They are enjoying successful seasons under first-year head coaches.
John Patton and Jeff Miller have taken over the Marian and Northern Lehigh boys' teams and have their respective teams on track to repeat their success from a year ago.
Patton was an assistant under former head coach Mick Stefanek for the last 12 years. He is a Marian alum and was even a member of the 1980-81 Anthracite League championship team. Patton currently has the Colts tied atop the Schuylkill League Division 3 standings with a 4-1 mark. They are 8-3 overall.
"We have struggled the last two games against Pius X and Minersville, but we are still first in the division," said Patton. "I have learned to live and adjust. Every day is different.
"We can't let losses bother us too much because we have to come out the next game. Every night we have to come ready to play in this league."
Miller, who began his coaching career in 1980 as an assistant at Lehighton, has Northern Lehigh headed in the right direction as well. The Bulldogs are 7-2 overall, but just saw their seven-game win streak ended by Saucon Valley. Despite the loss, the 'Dawgs lead the Colonial League North Division with a 4-2 record.
"We are a very, close knit group," said Miller. "We have a great group of kids that are willing to learn. After losing to Bangor to open the season, the kids came back the next day and probably had their best practice of the year. They have bought in to what I am trying to do.
"At the same time, I am always learning too. I don't claim to be John Wooden. I am always willing to learn. I am not afraid to ask my assistants for their input."
Miller has had his hand in coaching for nearly 30 years, so his first game as the Bulldogs' head coach wasn't that much of a shock to the system. He was the head coach at Lehigh Carbon Community College from 1989-94 and knows what it is like to be the head man. Still, Miller admitted to being a little nervous.
"I was very excited beforehand and had some butterflies," Miller said. "Plus, as a coach you are always worrying because you don't know how the game will turn out. But I have been involved in coaching my whole life and know what its like."
Patton seconded Miller's thoughts.
"My first concern was how we were going to play," said Patton. "We opened up in the Panther Valley tournament with our rival Panther Valley. It was definitely nerve racking.
"It was a good start because we were down one at half and came back to win. We ended up winning the tournament too. It was a great feeling to know that you came through as the coach and helped your team win."
Patton had the luxury of being in the program beforehand and knowing most of the people involved. He said that helped his transition a lot.
"It is a great feeling to be coaching your alma mater," Patton said. "However, there may be a little added pressure because of it. I already know everyone involved, from the athletic director to the kids, so that has made it easier.
"I talked to [former head coach] Mick [Stefanek] at the beginning of the season and have seen him at some games. He has congratulated me on the start we have had so far."
Miller was a volunteer coach at Northern Lehigh the last two years and that familiarity has had the same effect on his transition.
"It was huge," said Miller. "I knew all the kids. They all knew me and my demeanor. The transition has been easy because the kids have made it easy. I really can't say enough about them."
As one would expect, both teams have the same goals. Northern Lehigh already completed one goal by winning its Christmas tournament, but would still like to qualify for the league and district playoffs. Likewise, Marian is hoping to compete for its league and district title.
With the way things are going, both teams will probably be doing the same thing in late February.
Competing in the playoffs.