COUNCIL BLUFFS — The man taking over the struggling girls basketball program at Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson has never coached a high school game. In fact, he barely played the sport himself as a prep athlete.
Rich Bartholomew is the first to admit that he isn't walking around with a detailed playbook in his mind. Yet, he firmly believes that he can bring a monumental change to the Yellow Jackets.
The Thomas Jefferson girls won only three of 64 games in their final three years under former coach Nicole Vetter, who resigned in early March. They were 0-21 this past winter and have lost 29 games in a row.
Only 17 girls remained in the entire program at the Class 4-A school at the end of last season.
Bartholomew feels that lack of participation, not X's and O's, has been Thomas Jefferson's biggest downfall. And he said he can reach out to current and potential athletes at the school to build a new basketball foundation.
"My strength is that I get young people to believe in me and my message of what it's going to take," he said. "I'm not walking in here to be John Wooden or Pat Summitt. I'm walking in here to change the culture ... to get the kids to understand the hard work that it takes."
Bartholomew has a proven track record of that at Thomas Jefferson. His countless hours as a volunteer assistant with the cross country and girls track teams have helped both of those programs reach new heights the past four years. And his rapport with the school's student-athletes is unquestioned.
As he exited the gym after discussing his new position Wednesday, Bartholomew was nearly mobbed in the hallway by members of the girls track squad. "Coach B! Coach B!" they cried out, obviously wondering why he hadn't been outdoors working with the distance runners and jumpers at practice.
"He just has a remarkable personality," Activities Director Kris Hennings said. "He gets those kids to believe in themselves and take a chance. And I think he'll do the same in basketball."
Bartholomew said the school is "tremendously important" to him. A "west-end guy," he graduated from Thomas Jefferson in 1974 after transferring in his sophomore year. His children also went to high school at T.J.
He's been involved in Jacket athletics for 15 years, he said. Bartholomew was also one of the founders of the Council Bluffs Recreation Association (COBRA) and currently serves as the organization's president. He plans to expand on its Junior Jacket girls basketball program in the near future.
Building fundamentals early will be the key to a Thomas Jefferson turnaround, the new coach said. After watching the team play numerous times last year, Bartholomew plans to keep his players out of competitive leagues this summer to work on basketball basics in their own gym in two-on-two situations.
"We're going to try to get them coming in with ball skills so that we're not starting from square one every time the freshmen walk in," he said. "We're starting with a clean slate."