Right by their side: Zach Kancher uses Associate Head Coach experience to prepare for future


In the basketball coaching community, there’s often debate over the value of the Associate Head Coach title. Some feel as though it helps in career ascension. Others counter that the title is nothing more than something offered to the longest tenured assistant coach.

What can’t be argued is that, when considering additional responsibilities which can be given to a qualified Associate Head Coach, it can signify that they are the “right hand” to the Head Coach in the day-to-day operation of the program.

When Zach Kancher was given an opportunity to join Diane Richardson’s staff at Towson prior to the 2017-18 season, it seemed to be a great fit for the experienced coach. Kancher was familiar with recruiting the Washington D.C./Maryland/Virginia area, had gone to school in the region when he earned his undergraduate degree at The George Washington University, and had a strong relationship with Richardson from their many years of knowing each other and working together.

What many didn’t know was how the opportunity fit him in a philosophical way. For a coach who believes in the power of coaching transcending on-court success, the chance to offer new opportunities to a group of people who may not otherwise have them is a focal point of Kancher’s passion to coach.

“When you coach, you’re performing a civic duty in a sense that you’re able to afford student-athletes of all demographics and socio-economic statuses an opportunity to accelerate their success and to do it through basketball,” said Kancher, who serves as the Tigers’ Associate Head Coach and Recruiting Coordinator. “Allowing them to develop a more sophisticated world view is a great thing.”

That message – treating student-athletes as adults and instilling confidence in them – has permeated throughout the Towson program led by Richardson; and it’s tough to argue with the results. Under their leadership, Towson has quickly rebuilt what was a broken program in less than three years. Proof positive of that rebuild came last year when Towson captured the Colonial Athletic Association Championship and earned a berth in the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

While some may have been caught off guard, the opportunity for that success was a major reason Kancher felt comfortable coming to Towson.

“I’ve known Diane forever, since she was a high school head coach and had players going to great schools, and I was a Division II assistant, all the way to working with her on staff at George Washington,” said Kancher. “We had a great working relationship at GW, and you learn quickly what she’s about in terms of work ethic and the genuine nature of her personality. Anybody who operates in that radius of her knows how she is.”

That trust between the two of them has paid dividends.

“As a high school coach, she always had players going to great schools. She also had the juice you needed to have to recruit in the DMV,” said Kancher. “When she got here, student-athletes in the program didn’t know what their purpose was, and that’s the first thing Diane wanted to address. She wanted it to be clear that if you’re going to play for Towson, it’s going to mean something.”

Kancher is one of the more active and involved associate head coaches in the country, and that engagement has been a crucial part of helping the program move in the right direction. Upon arrival, the new Towson staff was tasked with revamping a downtrodden roster, generating excitement through the university and local communities, and re-engaging an alumni base that had been disillusioned from years of lackluster success and minimal contact.

For this, there was no better leader than Richardson. Prior to her time as a basketball coach, she worked in the corporate world and had experience building companies and brands. This has given Kancher the unique opportunity to learn and take part in that transformation, adding another experience to his coaching toolbox which already houses numerous traits and skills that will make him an excellent head coach when the time is right.

He has worked in lockstep with Richardson to rebuild a program with a smaller budget, while heavily recruiting a talent-rich area at Towson (as well as George Washington), learned the importance of successful communication and marketing of a program from Brenda Frese at Maryland, and has worked with student-athletes of all backgrounds while at other institutions at levels both higher (University of Miami) and lower (University of Missouri-Kansas City).

And – when it comes to preparing through having experience with head coach responsibilities – Kancher has utilized multiple associate head coach experiences to his benefit.

“Having been Associate Head Coach at UMKC, I learned that one of the biggest things is to be able to take things off the head coach’s plate. Bringing that mindset here to Towson was important because there was so much going on,” added Kancher. “We talk about synergy all the time, and (Richardson) affords me leeway when it comes to coaching and recruiting more than any other head coach in the country. That’s a testament to her ability to set a top-down cultural umbrella.”

Kancher, who counts coaches such as Frese and Penn Head Women’s Basketball Coach Mike McLaughlin as mentors along with Richardson, is nothing if not energetic. That energy will be a vital part to the preparation and performance Towson displays over the next few weeks of the season.

After challenging itself with a difficult non-conference schedule to prepare for CAA play, the Tigers have ripped off six wins in a row to move a game behind first-place. With the approach the team takes each day, it’s no surprise that Towson has looked stronger and stronger each week.

“I don’t have a checklist of things to do every day,” said Kancher. “We want to make our program a little more relevant and our players and our practices a little better each day. When you have a consistent daily work ethic that starts with the boss, the accumulation of those daily improvements allows you to carve out program culture and brand identity.”

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