EMMITSBURG — As Mount St. Mary's University president Tim Trainor gushed about its newest men's basketball coach over the crowded Cardinal Keeler Dining Room on Thursday morning, Dan Engelstad's business-like manner turned into a rapturous grin.
Just last Wednesday, six-year coach Jamion Christian left for Siena College and sent the Mountaineers scrambling to regain their footing during an inopportune time. But a little over a week after one of the most influential coaches in the program's long, rich history moved up the ladder, the Mount ushered in a new beginning with equal enthusiasm and pep.
"I'm really happy and excited to enter the Engelstad era of Mount basketball," said Trainor, who, along with director of athletics Lynne Robinson, officially introduced Engelstad as the Mount's 22nd men's basketball coach Thursday morning.
After greeting new faces and familiar cohorts, and before giving his opening remarks, Engelstad flanked to the left of the podium in a wooden chair — next to his wife, Camille, and 10-month-old daughter, Laney — soaking in the moment and recollecting memories.
"It's a dream come true," said Engelstad, a Bethesda native and former Mount St. Mary's assistant (2007-10). He comes from Division III Southern Vermont College, where he transformed a team that went 1-24 into a nationally recognized program.
Over his five seasons at Bennington, Vermont, he went 104-34 with a pair of New England Collegiate Conference titles and two NCAA Tournament berths. Engelstad won conference Coach of the Year three times.
He brings all of that success, along with a fiery determination to forge his own, unique legacy at the university.
"I'm going to work long and hard to make sure this Mount program gets on solid footing again and heads in the right direction," Engelstad said. "When I think of Mount basketball, I think of the rich, rich tradition. I think of Coach [Jim] Phelan. … I think of Milan Brown. … Coach Jamion Christian."
He also brings touching and contextual stories that keep him rooted in the Mount's history. When Engelstad accepted the Southern Vermont coaching job in 2013, Phelan took the then 25-year-old to dinner at Rocky's New York Pizza down the street from Mount St. Mary's and poured into the eager coach.
"He didn't just talk with me about basketball" Engelstad said. "He taught life."
Engelstad then singled out Brown, who perched in the back of the room, and expressed gratitude to the former Mount head coach (2003-10) who offered him his first coaching gig in 2007: "Coach, I can't thank you enough for being here today and sharing this special day with me. … I can't thank you enough for giving a 22-year-old a shot with no experience. I wouldn't be here until this day. I was ready to be a head coach at Southern Vermont and now here because of you."
A variety of connections filled the room, but the most notable of the crowd was Toronto Raptors forward Malcolm Miller, who played for Engelstad when he was an assistant at Holy Cross and for Armored Athlete in The Basketball Tournament — a 72-team pro-am basketball tournament for $2 million aired on ESPN every summer.
Engelstad guided Armored Athlete to the Elite Eight last summer and toppled top-seeded Team Colorado along the way.
"I wouldn't be in my position if it wasn't for him," Miller said. "That man means the world to me. He's the reason I'm here. He developed me as a player and as a man. That's my guy all the way. When he says he wants a culture that's together, to play with each other, he really means that. ... His brand of basketball is universal. He's not going to have to change his schemes or anything. With the way he recruits and the players he can get, he's going to have more explosive weapons he can utilize.
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"This is a great pick-up for the Mount. I'm happy. They got a new Mount fan."
Engelstad's speech was gracious but firm, calling on every member in the room to play a part in this time of change. Engelstad also shared of his vision, a blend of "Mount Mayhem" with his signature grit and discipline.
"I've been asked a lot the last 24 hours: How are you going to play? What's the style of play? And that's exciting, because Mount Mayhem isn't going anywhere," he said. "We're going to play fast. We're going to play aggressive. We're going to play team basketball. … Our goal every year is going to be to compete for the [Northeast Conference] Championship. Regular season and postseason. To do that, we're going to need everybody in this room."
Engelstad said he addressed the current players on the team Wednesday morning at around 9, calling them individually to share initial thoughts on the direction of the program. While the Mount lost its trio of senior leadership in Junior Robinson, Chris Wray and Greg Alexander, on top of Jonah Antonio, Bobby Planutis and Ryan Gomes — who were granted their releases — Engelstad has already gained a player-advocate in point guard Brandon Leftwich, who played in 10 games last year as a freshman.
"Dan's a great guy. I think some people are sad Coach Christian is gone, but I think a lot of people should be ready for change and excited for change," Leftwich said. "Not much is going to change within us as players, but the only thing that changes is our coach. We're still going to get after it. People should still expect the same things, like NEC Championships."
At the moment, the Mount have eight sophomores and six freshmen on the roster for this upcoming season. Two recruits from the 2018 class have de-committed and just two returners from the 2017-18 team have double-digit minutes per game experience. While it's not an ideal scenario for any coach to inherit, Engelstad said he's ready to prove himself.
"I don't worry about the doubters," Engelstad said. "Given [my opportunities], I know I can coach anybody. I'm looking forward to the challenge to rolling up my sleeves, getting to work with these guys. That doesn't scare me one bit. I'm looking forward to this opportunity."