2021 Men’s Club Coach Of The Year

Celebrating the best coaching performances of the year.

Ultiworld’s 2021 Men’s Club Awards are presented by Five Ultimate; all opinions are those of the authors. Please support the brands that make Ultiworld possible and shop at Five Ultimate!

Ultiworld is pleased to announce our annual Men’s Club Awards. While we consider both regular season and postseason performance, because of the nature of the Club Division, we weight success in the Series and at Nationals above all else — this year even more so than most. The Club Awards are selected based on input from Ultiworld reporters, contributors, and editors.

Player of the Year Award
Offensive Player of the Year Award
Defensive Player of the Year Award
Breakout Player of the Year Award
Coach of the Year Award
All-Club First Team
All-Club Second Team
Club Awards Voting Breakdown

2021 Men’s Club Coach Of The Year

Mike Denardis (Raleigh Ring of Fire)

Raleigh Ring of Fire's Mike Denardis. Photo: Kevin Leclaire -- UltiPhotos.com
Raleigh Ring of Fire’s Mike Denardis. Photo: Kevin Leclaire — UltiPhotos.com

Often, we use the term “career achievement award” pejoratively. Think Scorsese winning Best Director for The Departed, not necessarily because it was his best work, but because hey, it’s about time this guy got to take home a statute for all the great movies he’s made. So for Mike Denardis, the 2021 Coach of the Year, maybe the better framing to describe his long-awaited success is one of “culmination.” Winning Club Nationals with Raleigh Ring of Fire is a culmination of a years-long project for Denardis, one that has taken the Raleigh men’s team to the summit of the ultimate world.

Energizing a youth pipeline with Triforce, coaching UNC Darkside into a college powerhouse, and melding the AUDL’s Flyers with Ring of Fire, all while developing a coherent and identifiable style of play that translates across the various levels of competition, Denardis’s cumulative efforts have finally come to fruition in 2021. There are many people who have had a hand in this project who all deserve ample credit — from Jonathan Nethercutt and David Allison’s coaching to Tristan Green’s work building Triangle Ultimate into one of the country’s best disc organizations — but Denardis is the architect who has overseen the whole production. Working with these dedicated individuals and organizations, Denardis has led the charge in making the Triangle ultimate scene as prominent as any other in the country, with Ring of Fire’s championship the crowning achievement.

Of course, despite all of the work that has been put into getting Ring of Fire to this point, it would not have materialized into triumph without Denardis navigating a uniquely tricky season. While Ring looked like a team perfectly constructed by the championship game, the coaching staff had to make some bold personnel calls to find the optimal configuration. Radically restructuring the O-line by importing the D-line handling core and making them the focus of the offense, giving Ryan Osgar and Jack Williams the space to assert themselves despite not playing with the team until Regionals, trusting that former O-line players would buy into the grind of becoming defensive focused players… all of these decisions could have blown up in Ring’s face at Nationals, but Denardis made the right call on just about everything, unlocking the team’s great potential.

Beyond personnel, the decision to not play a regular season in order to focus on the AUDL and trusting that the work done with the Flyers would translate to Ring was a risk. But faith in the larger project was well placed, as the gold medals Denardis and the rest of Raleigh wore around their necks were a testament to the achievement of everything coach Denardis had been building for years.

Patrick Stegemoeller

1st Runner-Up

Bryan Jones & Ben van Heuvelen (New York PoNY)

New York PoNY's Bryan Jones and Ben van Heuvelen. Photos: William 'Brody' Brotman -- UltiPhotos.com
New York PoNY’s Bryan Jones and Ben van Heuvelen. Photos: William ‘Brody’ Brotman — UltiPhotos.com

At first glance, the return of B’s VH and J to the COTY podium in 2021 bears little resemblance to the performance that garnered them the award in 2018. Then, the duo completed a massive, years-long project: the ascension of a former stepping-stone club to championship winners and simultaneous dismantling of the division’s gold standard. It was the biggest system shock to the men’s scene in years, and they were the ones guiding it. This season? They helped a team full of stars who “only” made it to semis in 2019 refocus and claw their way back to within a point of a second title.

But that historical perspective obscures the monumental task that was rebuilding a team out of a collection of talented players who, at least at times during that 2019 campaign, looked like they had lost a sense of purpose. The New York PoNY leadership went all-in on the 2021 season, traveling to all three Triple Crown Tour tournaments in an effort to forge, through shared successes and failures, a new sturdy identity. The summer was not without its bumps, but the band that emerged at Northeast Regionals played with a singular resolve from that moment through to the 25th point of the National final — and even then, they didn’t stumble so much as run out of runway.1

Credit Jones and Van Heuvelen for the schemes, too. Doubling down on meat-and-potatoes matchup defense was a titanic zag to the division’s recent-year help-and-poach zig; it definitely played a role in disrupting offenses that had grown accustomed to scanning for receivers standing still on the weak side. Additionally, the isolation-heavy defense fostered a more palpable sense of teamwide trust and individual accountability.

Yes, their position in the division has shifted considerably over the last three years, but the PoNY coaches brilliantly recaptured that essential strength-in-unity approach of the 2018 champions again this fall.

Edward Stephens

2nd Runner-Up

Molica Anderson & Cody Mills (San Francisco Revolver)

San Francisco Revolver coaches Molica Anderson and Cody Mills huddle with team leadership. Photo: William 'Brody' Brotman -- UltiPhotos.com
San Francisco Revolver coaches Molica Anderson and Cody Mills huddle with team leadership. Photo: William ‘Brody’ Brotman — UltiPhotos.com

For so many years, San Francisco Revolver’s pedigree was untouchable. Thanks to the accumulation of veteran, Worlds-caliber talent on the roster, it at times felt that coaching the team was mostly just slotting pieces into an almost finished puzzle. Thanks in part to the pandemic and in part to the inevitable march of time, Revolver’s identity changed drastically. Gone were the household names that had made the team impenetrable, and in came a new crop of young talent, eager to prove themselves. The team went from Justice League to Teen Titans. With so much uncertainty to start the season, Revolver’s coaches had a lot of ground to cover in a short length of time.

If Revolver’s leadership was aware of that pressure, they didn’t seem to care. Molica Anderson and Cody Mills hit the ground running this season, instilling a new team identity that utilized the strengths of their players to their peak. Defensive swagger became a calling card of the team early in the season, a feature that played to the strengths of the young guns on the team ready to prove themselves. Revolver was one of the best teams at Pro Champs in September, largely due to the confidence in their defensive schemes and in-game adjustments. They carried that into the postseason, and were it not for two heartbreaking DGP losses, could very well have made a deep run in the bracket at Nationals.

The secret that’s been slept on for so long in the Bay Area is that it’s not just the players that make the team what it is — the coaches on Revolver are just as ‘elite’ as their roster. Even though Anderson and Mills were working with a younger squad, their combined coaching experience has just as much depth of knowledge as any player, and they showed it at every step this year. Much of the strength of the leadership has come from how their coaching styles complement each other. Mills has an analytical depth to his coaching that few can match, providing in-game adjustments to help Revolver over the hurdle in tight games. Anderson, on the other hand, is a player’s coach. She’s long received praise for her ability to prepare her team with the mental and emotional tenacity to compete at the highest level, something that’s been all the more crucial with the influx of young talent on Revolver this year. Revolver’s 20-5 record in 2021 was among the best in the nation, and the coaches were the ones that led the team through the largest overhaul the roster has seen, all without the program truly losing a beat in the process.

Graham Gerhart

  1. I refer, of course, to the notoriously short soft cap. 

  1. Ultiworld

    Ultiworld is the premier news media site dedicated to the sport of ultimate. This article includes the work of a number of our staff or contributors that have been identified within the piece.

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