Rob Rice preaches family to his players and program.
So the former Hermitage coach felt like he had to step away from the sidelines to be with his mother, who had been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, after two successful seasons with the Panthers from 2015-17.
“I had to go home and be there for her. I knew I couldn’t be the coach those kids deserved and be there for my mother at the same time,” Rice said.
“So I made the tough decision, one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made, to step away from coaching to be with her. But it was the right decision.”
Rice had six months with his mother and said he took advantage of that time. Four years later, the 2015-16 Conference 11 coach of the year is returning to the sidelines as the head coach for Hanover boys basketball.
Rice played for the Hawks in 2003-04, his senior year and the school’s first. He went on to play at Bridgewater College from 2006-09. His first coaching gig was as an assistant at Mechanicsville, that lasted a season before he was named the head coach. After a few seasons with the Mustangs, he took the job at Hermitage.
But Rice always dreamed of returning to lead his alma mater.
“Being a graduate of there the first year it opened, playing in that gym, I envisioned myself years later maybe one day being able to come back there and coach,” he said.
“For that to actually happen, I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity and I’m so excited to be back there. It just feels like the right place at the right time.”
Former Hanover girls basketball coach Mike Rohr took over the boys team this past season. The Hawks went 7-2 in county-only play before losing to Eastern View 57-49 in the Region 4B semifinal.
When Rice heard the position was open, he immediately reached out to Hanover director of student activities Bob Bollander. He’d spoken with his mentors and peers about returning to coaching, and received ample encouragement, most importantly from his wife.
“They were all giving me the same advice that, if I still have the itch and the passion, and I can make it work family-wise, I should go back into it,” said Rice, a father of three.
“I miss the game so much. The game has done so much for my life, that feeling was still there, I couldn’t get rid of it.”
Rice becomes the fourth Hanover head coach who played at the school, joining Tyler Cane (baseball), Nicole Shelton (field hockey) and Sam Rogers (football). The Hawks also have alumni as assistants in cheer, football, baseball, wrestling, field hockey, boys lacrosse and girls soccer.
“I’m very proud to be a part of that group, it’s honestly a pretty cool thing to go back to where you feel like you made your mark in high school and get a chance to coach there,” Rice said.
He added that the first step in joining a new program is building relationships, so getting to know is players is at the top of his agenda. The best coaches adapt to the players that they have, he said. But optimally, he’d like to establish a “modern style of play” that’s fast-paced and defensive where his Hawks get out and run to play in space.
“Hanover’s got some really good athletes who play multiple sports,” he said, before listing off a handful of upperclassmen he’s eager to see on the court.
“I’m excited about how athletic we will be.”
But first he’s got to build those relationships with new players. Because that’s how you foster the culture he preaches to his programs.
“It’s going to be a family there, he said. “And that’s what I’m most excited about.”