By Woodard, Dale on May 17, 2018.
Neil Langevin is back, but it’s more like he never left.
On Wednesday, Langevin returned to a familiar role, but in a new capacity, as the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns announced the head coach from the Pronghorns’ three-time national championship teams will return to guide the program on a full-time basis.
The decorated coach with an equal passion for teaching now turns his attention to one career path.
“I’m excited and nervous all at the same time,” said Langevin at the official press conference at the 1st Choice Savings Centre. “I’ve coached the better part of 19 or 20 years here and only missed a few years, but I’ve never had the opportunity to be a full-time coach. I’ve been torn between my other passion of education and my passion of rugby.
“One thing I try to do when I worked as an educator and a coach is that I’ve always tried to describe myself as a professional coach. Now, I’ll have even more time and energy to work towards that. I look upon those experiences as really formational to help me get to the spot.”
Pronghorn women’s rugby became the first program in the Canadian university rugby scene to hire a full-time head coach in August 2015 with the hiring of former international coach Ric Suggitt.
Langevin stepped down in 2012 after guiding the program from the beginning to three national championships, but returned last season after the sudden passing of Suggitt last June.
He was joined on the coaching staff by former Pronghorn and Olympic bronze medallist Ashley Steacy, who assumed the role of associate coach.
“I’m just so proud of the university to continue to fund women’s rugby and help grow it across the world, the country and in Lethbridge,” said Langevin, who was on the selection committee that hired Suggitt.
During Langevin’s first tenure, he compiled a 64-29-1 record and won three straight national championships from 2007 to 2009 and six consecutive Canada West titles from 2006.
“It’s like he never really left, but it is great to have him back,” said University of Lethbridge executive director Ken McInnes. “Last year they stepped into a very tough situation, both him and Ashley, and they did a great job of that. Having the quality of that coach, but more importantly, he’s an educator that gets the student athlete and I think that is critical. He’s a great mentor and a great motivator. He’ll be great for our developing coaches as well because of all his experience. You could not of have asked for a better combination. It’s nice to be able to have him back. I think for our program, too, it speaks volumes on the university’s commitment to rugby and the student athletes. It’s also that the student athletes have somebody to go to. We have some part-time coaches and they do an incredible job because they’re not here so they have to make and carve out the time and they do. Having him on campus like this does make that easier.”
The Pronghorns went 2-2 during conference play last season, improving from last to third and won the bronze medal at the Canada West Championships.
In November, the Horns hosted the U SPORTS Championships at the University of Lethbridge Stadium.
“We were really happy last year with the growth of the team, individually and as a group,” said Langevin. “We moved up from fifth to third in both the 15s and the sevens and we were three points away from the semifinal at the Canada West championship. We lost a few players and we don’t have as much depth in the backs as I would like and we’re going to work at that in the next little bit. But our forward group is really going to be quite strong and we do anticipate to challenge for a Canada West title this year.
“I think we can make an impact on the national scene as soon as next year. But honestly, I think we’re in the top-10 already. So we’re going to deal on growing that group in that strength, but next year should be an exciting year.”
After serving as associate coach last season, Steacy will take a step back from the program this coming season, but will remain part of the program in a yet-to-be determined capacity.
“With Ashley’s help we just ran our ID camp,” said Langevin. “We had 52 girls come from all over Western Canada. So that has gone well. Our girls all have off-season fitness programs and I’m in communication with most of the players now.”
The Pronghorns will begin training camp in late-August.
They’ll open the conference schedule on the West Coast when they face the Victoria Vikes and the UBC Thunderbirds in the third week of September.
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