After the five most successful years of his three decades roaming the sidelines, Highland girls basketball coach Mike Arbuthnot has decided to hang up his clipboard.
Arbuthnot's decision to walk away from the court coincides with his pending retirement from the classroom after a 32-year career. Arbuthnot, chair of the driver's ed, health and PE department at Roxana High School, will retire from teaching at the end of the current school year.
"I'm not really sure what it is in store for me after my retirement, but I am giving myself another option," said the 55-year-old Arbuthnot. "But I enjoyed it. I loved my five years there (at Highland). This is not a negative, by any means. It was a fantastic experience. These last five years have been some of the best of my 30 years of coaching."
Arbuthnot, who coached baseball and softball in addition to girls basketball at Roxana, wanted to put to rest any rumors that he is leaving to take another job.
"I do not have another job lined up," he said. "As it stands, I am not leaving Highland to go someplace else. I am not saying, if something comes up down the road, I wouldn't be interested, but there is nothing on the burner right now. I still feel relatively young, but I do not plan to take another job."
The pinnacle moment of Arbuthnot's time in Highland came two years ago when he led the Bulldogs to a record-breaking campaign. The team finished with the most wins (31) in a season school history and the season culminated with a Class 3A third-place trophy.
"The biggest highlight was taking the kids to state and taking third place," Arbuthnot said.
Arbuthnot admitted that he originally planned on staying in Highland for only three years, but he liked everything in the program — players, assistant coaches, parents, the members of HLBA (Highland Lady Basketball Association) and the school administrators — so much that he ended up staying two more seasons.
Impact on program
In addition to the third-place state finish and most wins in a single season in program history in 2016, Arbuthnot also led the team to back-to-back regional championships (2016, 2017) as well as four consecutive Mississippi Valley Conference championships (2014-17).
"We had a lot of success, but it isn't just about the winning, it's more about the relationships you build," he said. "I have built relationships with the classy players, the coaches and the parents. I was able to make life-long friends, because this is a very special place with the families, the school district and everything."
Caleb Houchins, the current athletic director at Highland High, said Arbuthnot's record speaks for itself and agrees there is more to Arbuthnot's impact than just the success on the court.
"Coach Arbuthnot was an incredible asset to Highland Lady Bulldogs Basketball for the last five years," Houchins said. "Coach Arb is a great coach and an even better person. He will be truly missed as a coach and a member of the Highland family."
Highland senior Rece Portell spent all four years under Arbuthnot's guidance. She said he was a perfect coach for her, especially because he focused on her strengths, which were playing hard and defensive aspects.
"Everything he wanted was right up my alley," Portell said. "He truly put so much time and effort into coaching that most people don’t even realize. With our millions of plays and his millions of hours watching film, he always had our team ready to go. But some of the moments I enjoyed most with Arb weren’t even on the floor. He doesn’t live in this area, yet he still got to know us on a personal level outside of basketball. He balanced being serious and being fun better than a lot of coaches I know. I loved playing for him and feel lucky to have had the opportunities he gave me. The program was better because of Arb, and I think the past teams would all agree. He’ll be missed so much."
Madison Wellen, a 2017 Highland graduate, reached the 1,000-point milestone while playing all four years under Arbuthnot.
"I think we were really successful as a group," Wellen said. "There was a lot of athleticism in the program to begin with, so I think he was able to take that and run with it. We had a couple good postseason runs, one of them being a trip to state with a third-place finish. I am somewhat shocked to hear that he is stepping down, because the program has been so successful the past four to five years."
Reasons for leaving
Arbuthnot said a factor in his retirement was that his wife, Kelly, who works at Boeing, will also be retiring at around the same time.
"We will finally be able to get our ducks in order," he said.
The veteran coach also said the commute driving to and from Highland was a factor. The windshield time made it difficult for him to devote all the time to the program that he would have liked, he said.
"Living five or 10 minutes away, you're part of a community. But being 35 to 40 minutes away, like I am, it's harder to be a part of the community, and I am not really able to get involved with the youth in the community," Arbuthnot said. "When you oversee a program, you want to oversee the whole program, from third grade on on up. And living so far away makes it harder for me to be able to keep the program at a high level."
Search for a new coach
Houchins said the search for a new coach will begin quickly, because it is important to get a someone in place before the summer training begins.
Amy Boscolo, who will take over as athletic director and assistant principal July 1 while Houchins transitions to associate principal, will be involved in the selection, Houchins said.
"It is very important she be involved in the hiring process of the next coach," Houchins said. "We feel this is an important position, and one that the next AD will need to work with closely. The decision will be a team decision, and the administration is looking forward to finding a strong candidate list for the position."