Former U of I coach, Matt Bollant, introduced as Eastern women’s basketball coach


Justin Brown

Newly introduced women’s basketball coach Matt Bollant addresses a crowd of Panther supports and members of the media Monday afternoon in Lantz Arena.

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

The Eastern women’s basketball program needed a desperate answer to get the team back to a competitive level and Eastern’s answer to fix that problem was hiring former University of Illinois women’s basketball coach Matt Bollant.

Bollant was formally introduced as the new head coach of the women’s basketball team Monday and he is excited to start and get the program turned around.

“There’s very little distractions here,” Bollant said. “We can be great and I came here to do that and we’re going to do that as fast as possible. With the returners we have this year, it sounds like they want to work and they have some good cultures in place and if that’s true, it’s going to happen fast.”

He was hired Friday afternoon after five weeks went by since the Panthers let go Debbie Black.

Bollant spent the last five seasons as the coach at Illinois and was let go one week after Black. By that point Eastern had 50 applicants to fill the position.

Athletic Director Tom Michael said he knew there would be interest in the position but did not know to what extent. But when Eastern began the hunt to find a new coach, Bollant was still employed. He called Michael the day after he was let go by Illinois, he said.

When Michael received Bollant’s voice mail, he was expecting that Bollant wanted to talk about the other potential candidates in the pool, but found out that was not the case.

“I called him back and we talked about it and he was asking some questions and he said ‘I’m really, really interested in the position,’” Michael said. “I’m like ‘ok, now this conversation can take a different approach.’ I was really excited about that and that kind of certainly changed some thought process at that point in time.”

For most, the past four weeks have gone by fast, and for Eastern to file through close to 100 total applications, that seemed to go quick, as well. But for a workhorse like Bollant, it did not feel that way.

He was hired one month after being let go by Illinois.

“Some of my friends in the business said ‘boy that was fast,”’ Bollant said. “But it didn’t feel fast for me. I know Eastern did it as fast as they could. I’m just someone that likes to work. I was up at five this morning. I’ve been up everyday this week and already got one recruit and hoping to get another tonight (Monday). I like to work. I grew up in a family and my dad taught us to work. I did not like the last three weeks. I was going crazy, so I was anxious to get back to work.”

Within his first two full days as the coach, he had landed one recruit from Australia and that is what going to be senior Grace Lennox looks most forward to.

She said they struggled a bit the past two years with recruiting, and she is excited for Bollant to bring in more talent even though she only has one year left.

“I just feel like I came here to win. I came here to have winning seasons,” Lennox said. “I’ve had three kind of bad losing seasons and I feel like we’ve got the best coach in place for a successful season and I want to get a ring.”

Members of the women's basketball team cheer during the announcement of their new coach Matt Bollant Monday afternoon in Lantz Arena.
Justin Brown
Members of the women’s basketball team cheer during the announcement of their new coach Matt Bollant Monday afternoon in Lantz Arena.

Bollant has had clear success in his last three coaching gigs at Illinois, Green Bay and Bryan College. That success includes trips to the NCAA Tournament.

While the experience at Big 10 school Illinois is great, the success at “Eastern-level schools” like Green Bay and Bryan College is what really drove Michael to bringing him in, Michael said.

“His passion to teach the game of basketball and how he treats the kids, he loves his teams and you’re going to play much harder for a coach that demonstrates that passion and enthusiasm and love for you than if you don’t feel that way when you walk into a locker room or walk out of practice,” Michael said.

Bollant’s wife Kari and his daughter Regan were on hand at the introduction press conference, and he hopes that his family becomes part of the Charleston community.

“We want people to know us and get a feel for our family,” Bollant said. “We want to dive in and have an impact. I’m excited about that opportunity and I like the face that it’s a smaller town and you can get to know people.”

Eastern practiced Monday afternoon under Bollant’s direction.

Sean Hastings can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]