By: Monty Mosher
Darrell Glenn's dream came knocking this spring.
Glenn got a chance to return to UPEI, where he had played basketball years before, to become the head coach of the men's team, replacing Tim Kendrick.
The AUS basketball regular season begins this week with the Panthers seeing their first action on Friday and Saturday at Saint Mary's.
For Glenn, it was his opportunity to become a head coach at the university sport level, something he always wanted. He had always shared basketball with his professional life as a teacher in the Toronto area, but now could devote his time and energy to shaping a team his own way.
So, naturally, he leapt into the loving the arms of Charlottetown and the Panthers.
Well, not exactly.
The devil is always in the details and the transition to UPEI was never going to be smooth or easy. Glenn had to uproot a family settled into a happy life a long way from the Maritimes.
His wife, Koren, had to leave a job she had held for 23 years with no immediate prospects in P.E.I. Two children needed to change schools and Glenn needed to find some care for his ailing mother. Glenn also had to walk away from a pension.
"The initial reaction was this doesn't make any sense," Glenn said this week. "But then when we sat down and created a list of pros and cons, we saw a lot more pros than we initially thought.
"I thought that I'm kind of getting up there in age and this is probably as good as it is going to get, especially with our connections to the Island. We just thought this was really something we couldn't afford to turn down."
With all that might have gone wrong, it's been a great experience thus far.
"Prince Edward Island holds a special place in my heart," he said. "It's where I met my wife. It's where I went to school and made a lot of friends, it's where I played basketball and had a lot of social and academic experiences. It feels really, really good to be back."
Glenn played at UPEI from 1989 to 1994, winning an AUS championship as a rookie in the 1988-89 season under head coach George Morrison.
He remembers those Panthers only lost once in the regular season. It was the second of back-to-back titles for UPEI.
Glenn backed up senior guard Alonzo Wright and made it his job to push him in practice. He didn't play a ton, but still felt he made a contribution.
"It was an exceptional team. I remember how difficult practice was and how competitive practice was. I remember our seniors – Alonzo Wright, Curtis Brown and Mark Roberts – and their leadership. They were great mentors. It was a special season."
Peter Gordon was one of the stars, winning AUS most valuable player that season.
"There were so many guys who set an example of what championship basketball should feel like and look like on a daily basis."
The Panthers played in another final in Glenn's era, losing to Cape Breton in 1994.
Glenn stuck around after graduation to help the UPEI women's team.
"That really was the introduction and the spark for me to start getting into coaching. I'd never really thought about it before.
"I had an unbelievable experience. We lost to Memorial that year in the final and I remember being on the floor crying with the girls. I knew then it was something I wanted to do."
He went back to Toronto and made a commitment to coaching, working his way through the coaching certification ranks. After working for a few years in a bank, he got his education degree from University of Toronto in 2000.
He assisted at Centennial College. He worked with Basketball Ontario and the national program. He did two world university games, an under-21 world championship and a FIBA Americas qualifier.
He was six years as a head coach at Humber College and nine years overall with the team. He was the CCAA coach of the year at Humber in 2010. He was an assistant coach at York University for two years and a head coach at Seneca College for two years.
"But in between that I did a lot of clubs and three or four different high schools. I really coached at a lot of different levels."
He's not sure where the fire comes from, just that it is there.
"It's an opportunity to teach. The game is something I'm really passionate about. While doing all of those other duties my full-time job was as a high school teacher. I taught for 19 years when I went back. What I always wanted to do since I went back was teach and give back and help people grow. Coaching was just the perfect vehicle to do that."
The resume had a hole, like the one in his heart. Glenn always wanted to be a U Sports head coach. He's not afraid to admit it.
Teaching and coaching was great, but just once he wanted that singular focus on coaching just to see what it was like.
"I always thought being a full-time head coach would give me the best opportunity to be the best I could be with the craft," he said.
"I had applied to a few and had a number of interviews. I was offered a position in 2009 at University of Manitoba, but, as a family, we weren't ready to make that leap at the time."
UPEI came straight out of the blue. Kendrick took the Panthers to the AUS final in 2016, but the team missed the playoffs last season and the university made a change.
It will be a new-look team at UPEI this year as many of the top players from the recent era – Tyler Scott, Dut Dut and Lorenzo Parker – have wrapped up their careers in the green and white.
The Panthers went 4-5 in the exhibition season, despite some injuries. One of those wins came against St. Francis Xavier.
Glenn will take what he has – some returning players, some of Kendrick's recruits and a few of his own – and promote a team-first approach.
"I feel we are making steady progress," he said. "The team is better than I thought it was going to be when I first took the job.