Eric Bridgeland, Whitman College’s all-time winningest men’s basketball coach, will be leaving the Blues to become the next head coach at University of Redlands, it was announced last month.
“Our family would like to thank President (Kathleen) Murray and Whitman for an amazing journey,” said Bridgeland. “The special relationships forged both with our passionate student-athletes and surrounding community, in particular, will indeed be life-lasting.”
“We want to thank Eric for his commitment and service not only to our men’s basketball program, but to the College and Walla Walla community,” added Whitman athletics director Kim Chandler. “His success and positive impact at Whitman cannot be overstated and we wish him and his family the best.”
Under Bridgeland’s leadership, the Whitman men’s basketball program has grown to be the pacesetter not only in the Northwest Conference, but also on the regional and national level.
With a record of 152-24 from the 2014-15 through 2019-20 seasons, his Blues teams have won the previous four league titles and hold the nation’s longest conference win streak of 67 games.
Over that stretch, Bridgeland was named NWC Coach of the Year three times and earned national coach of the year honors by Basketball Times, HoopDirt.com, Hero Sports and D3hoops.com, and voted the NABC West District Coach of the Year.
Overall, Bridgeland’s Whitman resume includes four league titles along with four NCAA Sweet 16 and two Elite 8 appearances, and a trip to the NCAA Final Four in 2017.
Bridgeland’s impact on the Whitman and Walla Walla community cannot be overstated. The Sherwood Center routinely filled its stands for men’s basketball games with students, alumni and members of the Walla Walla community.
Bridgeland also established one of the largest free leadership-based basketball camps and clinics (Together We Can), and program members routinely traveled to underserved areas in the community to spend time making a positive impact.
Bridgland took over a downtrodden Whitman program in 2008 coming off a five-win season and a last-place NWC finish.
Bridgeland got to work and in 2013 earned a signature win rallying from a 17-point deficit to beat national No. 1 and conference foe Whitworth in overtime.
Three seasons later, Bridgeland had firmly established a perennial national power with No. 1 rankings and deep NCAA Tournament runs an annual occurrence.
The 2016-17 squad proved to be the most successful in program history.
The Blues made the program’s deepest NCAA run, advancing to the Final Four and finishing with a program-best 31-1 record.
The team became the first Northwest Conference program in 83 years to complete a perfect 25-0 regular season and the first Final Four appearance by a west region team since 1982.
For his efforts, Bridgeland was named the National Coach of the Year by both Herosports and D3hoops.com.
The 2018-19 squad, despite an exit in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16, featured arguably the finest collection of talent in the Bridgeland era.
Ranked No. 1 nationally for most of the season, the Blues were led by four-year seniors Austin Butler, Joey Hewitt, Jack Stewart and Cedric Jacobs-Jones who collectively boasted a 112-10 career, tops in NCAA history.
The 2017-18 edition of Whitman basketball earned the top spot in the preseason D3hoops.com poll and maintained that No. 1 ranking for the entire 13-weeks of the regular- and conference-tournament schedules.
The Blues earned their third-consecutive spot in the NCAA D-III tournament and advanced into the Elite 8 round.