Karen Magnusson knew she’d return to coaching basketball again. It was always a question of when, not if.
Magnusson resigned from coaching at Cony in March of 2012. Her goal was to have a baby and put family life ahead of coaching.
She’s now ready to attempt juggling both. Magnusson has been named the new girls’ basketball coach at Dirigo in Dixfield, where her husband, Travis, coaches the boys’ program.
“The hard part was to be thinking about what we could do for our family and for Landon,” said Magnusson, who now has a young son. “So I really thought it would be two years or three years down the road. But then I also said, ‘If there’s a right job available.’ So it was pretty exciting to have an opportunity to coach at the same school as Trav. Now we can be parents and coaches. That’s really the big difference. I don’t think I would have gone for any other job this year just because of the difficulties.”
Magnusson replaces Reggie Weston, who coached the program for seven seasons. Dirigo finished 11-7 last winter and was seeded eighth in the Western C standings. The Cougars won a prelim-round game and eliminated top-ranked St. Dominic of Auburn before losing to Madison in the semifinals.
Weston, however, was surprised to learn after the season that he was not being rehired.
Magnusson, who played at both Cony and the University of Maine at Farmington, said she thought nothing of the opening at first. She had actually worked with Dirigo players last season at Weston’s request. She also got to know the community by following her husband’s boys’ team.
“I didn’t really think anything of it,” said Magnusson of hearing about the job opening. “Then it was three days or four days after that that people from the community had contacted me. Then I had a couple players contact me. It was at that point that I was thinking, ‘That’s interesting.’ It feels nice to be wanted. So I did a lot of talking with Trav.”
Though raising a son and starting a family is a challenge while also leading a basketball team, the Dirigo job provided her an opportunity to have the best of both worlds.
There were logistical issues she had to consider. In addition to her son’s care, her travel from school in Winthrop, where she teaches fourth grade, made it a challenge for her to have early practices or even making the bus for road trips.
“When I went to apply for the job, I really had to talk about some of the struggles that we may have, especially because of my distance being so far away,” she said. “I had to make sure I gave them everything I was worried about before I applied. So I had to make sure it would work first.”
Magnusson even called Weston to make sure he was okay with her taking the job.
“Everybody who knows Reggie knows he’s a great guy,” Magnusson said. “He said if he wasn’t coaching, he absolutely wanted me to apply because he wanted them to have the best opportunity. I would not have gone through the process without talking to him.”
Because teams in the Mountain Valley Conference either play back-to-back games or have the girls’ and boys’ teams play on different nights, the situation for the Magnussons is favorable.
“Even though it’s a distance for me, this is the best position to see if I can coach while having a family,” Magnusson said.
Though there might be occasions where one might help the other with practices, the Magnussons won’t be teaming up to coach both programs.
Magnusson was certainly invested in her husband’s team last year, and even helped out on occasion, but it wasn’t the same as coaching her own team. She missed it and is thrilled to be returning.
“Last year was so hard, to sit back and just watch,” she said. “I loved working with my husband. So I got that part, to be able to go to practices. But I want to have my own practices and motivate and inspire kids to play hard and have enthusiasm. I missed all that. Tourney time was one of the hardest times for me. I’d be at the (Augusta) Civic Center and there’d be a game, the crowd and the excitement and I was on the other end as a fan.”
Dirigo only had two seniors last year and returns a promising team that should do well in the MVC and in Western C next season. Though Magnusson has gotten to know many of the MVC coaches and has watched the C tourney — both as a fan and as an analyst with the Maine Public Broadcasting Network — the Cougars provide her a different kind of coaching challenge.
Many assumed her coaching style was the running, gunning, 3-point-shooting teams that she had at Cony for five seasons. One of those teams went 21-0 before losing to McAuley in the state championship game. Her final year, the Rams reached the Eastern A finals before losing to Bangor.
“I try to coach what I have,” Magnusson said. “I always had a guard-loaded shooting team. I never had a six-footer at Cony. It’s not like we ever had a dominant inside game.”
Dirigo features some size and a strong group of guards that Magnusson is excited to coach. She’s also watched the game and learned new things over the past year that she’s looking forward to implementing.
“When you’re a coach, you’re always coaching,” she said. “I sit and love watching basketball and the way my mind works, when I watch, you immediately start picking things up. But I didn’t have to write things down because I didn’t have to use it for now. I’m excited now because I’ve already picked up new ideas that I like and was holding onto for when I coached again. So I’ll be able to put it in play. So I’m excited about that.”