Mike Ciardella has been coaching basketball for more than 30 years, starting in 1982 as an assistant with the Oceana boys’ varsity team. Other than his 12 years as the athletic director at Sacred Heart Prep, Ciardella has been involved with coaching basketball at various levels and in various capacities since then.
Next year, however, he will return as the head man for the first time in more than a decade when he takes over the Hillsdale girls’ varsity team for the 2014-15 season.
“I kind of got the itch to do it (run a program again),” Ciardella said. “This is pretty much going to be it. I don’t know how much longer I’ll go (this time). Maybe another three to five years.”
It’s not as if Ciardella has been away from the game, however. He has served as an assistant coach at numerous stops over the years, including last season when he was an assistant with the Mills girls’ squad under head coach Dave Matsu.
Before the Mills gig, Ciardella was co-head coach at Kehillah Jewish School in Palo Alto. From 2009 to 2012, he was an assistant at Notre Dame de Namur University and, from 1997 to 2001, he was co-coach for the Sacred Heart Prep boys’ squad.
Ciardella takes over for Megan Hankins, who left to become the women’s head coach at De Anza College. Hankins turned the Knights into title contender this season, finishing third in the Peninsula Athletic League’s South Division with a 10-2 record, one game behind co-champs Carlmont and Mills, and earning a spot in the Central Coast Section playoffs. In two seasons, Hankins compiled a 12-12 record in PAL play and 22-28 overall.
With a number of key players poised to return over the next couple of years, the Knights are on track for something special and Hillsdale athletic director Brett Stevenson believes Ciardella is the man to take the Knights to the next level.
“Coach Ciardella will continue the good work coach Hankins has done establishing our girls basketball program as a solid team in the PAL,” Stevenson said in an email. “I want Mike to come in and build on that success and establish a tradition of a top-notch girls basketball program. Mike has the coaching pedigree and experience to do this.”
For those not familiar with Ciardella resume, it’s impressive to say the least. He’s had success at nearly every stop of his coaching career, but he really made a name for himself with the Sacred Heart Prep girls’ program in the early to mid 1990s. From 1991 to 1996, his teams won four Division V state championships and five Central Coast Section titles, compiling a record of 168-13.
To Ciardella, however, that was a lifetime ago.
“I don’t try to bring that stuff up. That was a long time ago,” Ciardella said. “I met with the (Hillsdale) team and I told them what I expect. I’m a big believer in we have to like each other and get along.”
When Ciardella was named athletic director at Sacred Heart Prep in 1997, he gave up the coaching reins. Ciardella wanted to concentrate on being the best athletic director he could be.
“It’s tough to coach and be an AD. You’re cheating something (if you do both). I decided I just wanted to help [the SHP] coaches. I wanted them to all succeed,” Ciardella said. “I stayed out of coaching while I was an AD. It was good for me to be on the administrative end.”
Stevenson believes Ciardella’s experience as athletic director will help Hillsdale as well.
“Mike has the ability to help mentor some of our younger coaches at Hillsdale,” Stevenson said.
When Ciardella retired in 2009, he began a several-year trek as an assistant or co-head coach. Ciardella said he did not get the itch to run a program on his own again until he saw the opening at Hillsdale. He figured if he was going to do it, now was the time. At 67 years old, Ciardella is not getting any younger, but he said being in good health definitely factored into his decision.
“When I saw the Hillsdale [opening], I starting thinking about it. [The school] is pretty close [to my home in Redwood Shores] and they’re going to be a pretty good team. … I knew the team was in pretty good shape. I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll try this,’” Ciardella said.
Despite his resume and success, Ciardella actually was not sure he was the right person for the job.
“I thought, ‘Maybe I’m not what they’re looking for. Maybe I’m too old,’” Ciardella said.
Ciardella, after some prodding from Stevenson, threw his hat into the ring and he was chosen to coach the Knights.
“If I didn’t think it was the right fit, I would have bowed out,” Ciardella said.
Said Stevenson: “Hillsdale is excited and honored that coach Ciardella has accepted the position as head varsity basketball coach at Hillsdale.”