Denfeld News

Dec. 2, 2007
Duluth News Tribune

LeGarde settles in as head coach of Duluth Central
By Rick Weegman

Dave LeGarde spent the past 15 years waiting to be a head coach, yet his most anxious moments came after he was hired as Duluth Central’s boys basketball coach.

After spending numerous hours engrossed in the minutiae of the job since being hired in June, LeGarde finally put his stamp on the position when the Trojans opened the high school season Dec. 8 at North Branch.

“I was telling some friends of mine [before the game] that I couldn’t wait to play because it was a sense of relief to actually play a game and get to coach again,” he said.

LeGarde, 41, was an assistant coach for nine years at Duluth Denfeld and six more at crosstown rival East. Now, he takes over a program with a storied history (15 state tournament trips and four titles), but one that often has lagged behind the city’s other public schools in recent years.

His biggest challenge, however, isn’t on the court — LeGarde is fully capable of handling coaching strategies — it’s off the court.

“As an assistant, you worry about things like game planning and preparation,” said LeGarde, who during the day works as a liaison between the Duluth school district and special education Native American students and their families. “When you’re a head coach, there’s a lot more things to think about — paperwork and fundraising, things like that. I knew that it would be busy, but it still caught me by surprise how much work it is.”

But he’s having a good time doing it. A 2-2 start, which includes wins over Denfeld and Esko, hasn’t hurt. That’s despite having to replace all five starters from last season’s Section 7AAA championship team.

The new roster actually might aid LeGarde’s transition. Since he implemented a new, more up-tempo offensive system, he doesn’t have to spend time teaching returnees to rethink their old style of play.

“We can all kind of relate to each other,” senior Garth Heikkinen said. “We’re learning from each other. It makes it easier. He brought in a new system, and we’ve adjusted to it. Every game we’ll get better and learn more.”

Heikkinen says LeGarde is very intelligent basketball-wise, and his laid-back approach goes over well with players.

“You can really relate to him,” he said. “He’s a good guy, not just your coach. He’s a mentor and, I think, he’s even your friend.”

LeGarde, a 1985 Denfeld graduate, knows all about good mentors. Chuck Tolo hired him in Tolo’s last year at Denfeld. LeGarde served the next eight years under Jeff Nace and alongside fellow assistant Steve Stojevich, then spent six years back with Tolo at East. That stint included a Class AAA championship game appearance in 2006.

“I think he’s going to do fine,” Tolo said. “He’s put the work in and has a lot of experience. Dave felt it was time to step up and try head coaching.”

It also helps LeGarde that former coach Tom Pearson is now Central’s activities director and has an office across from the gym.

“Tom has been an unbelievable help in making this transition,” LeGarde said. “I go in and see him just about every day with a question, and he always has an answer for me. I really appreciate what he’s done.”

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