This father and son basketball trip was a little different than their first hoops odyssey back in the early 1970s.
Dick Nagy was the coach of the fledgling basketball program at Barton County Community College in Kansas then and his son Scott was 6 or 7.
“When he was a little boy I’d take him along when I ran basketball camps out in western Kansas,” Dick said. “We’d go to small schools for maybe four days and we might have 10 to 15, maybe 30 kids come in. We’d be in the camp with them during the day, then we’d go to dinner and come back that night and sleep on an air mattress we’d put on the gym floor.”
He started to chuckle as he thought back to one particular stop in WaKeeney, a town in the High Plains of Kansas with 1,800 people and one freight train line.
“You never heard of WaKeeney, but I’ll never forget it,” Dick said. “As we were laying there, the bell in the school went off every hour… all night long.”
Fast forward to Tuesday morning at the Nutter Center, where Scott, now two months shy of 50, was introduced as the Wright State basketball coach after spending the past 21 years as the coach at South Dakota State University.
He put together a 410-240 career record with the Jackrabbits, guided them from NCAA Division II to Division I status in 2009 and over the past five years his teams have earned five postseason bids, including three to the NCAA Tournament. This past season the Jacks went 26-8 and lost to Maryland 79-74 in the first round.
For Tuesday’s press conference, Nagy brought along his wife, Jamie, the three youngest of their five children, two of his SDSU assistant coaches who will become part of the new staff here … and his dad.
This was no air mattress, sleep-on-the-gym-floor type of venture.
It’s believed Nagy is getting a five-year deal worth $2.5 million. That’s a considerable bump from his SDSU job, where he worked under 21 straight one-year contracts and was last reported to be making $210,000 a year.
The WSU deal is more than double what Billy Donlon, fired in mid-March after a 22-13 season and a 109-94 career mark over six years, was being paid annually.
While the pay certainly was enticing, so, said Nagy, was the rest of what WSU had to offer — from the Nutter Center and the campus to the Mills-Morgan practice facility, where a reception was held for the new coach after the press conference.
“I just took my two assistants around and they can’t believe it,” Scott said.
Dick agreed: “I had no idea. We went around the campus and I was amazed.”
And he isn’t some wide-eyed guy who just stepped out of a High Plains wheat field.
After coaching at Barton and then East Central Community College in Missouri, Dick got a helping hand — for the second time — from legendary Illinois coach Lou Henson.
The first time came when Dick, the product of a blue collar family in Syracuse, had just graduated from high school. Although he’d been a standout prep player, he was working as a milkman and about to get married.
Henson was then coaching at Hardin-Simmons University in Texas.
“He called and offered me a scholarship over the phone, but I didn’t see myself as the college type,” Dick said. “But then I went and it changed my life.”
After his two juco jobs, he joined Henson’s staff at Illinois, spent the next 17 years there and went to the Final Four in 1989.
When Henson finally left, Dick joined former Illini assistant Jimmy Collins, who had taken over at WSU’s Horizon League rival Illinois-Chicago. During his five years there, UIC played the Raiders 11 times, winning six, including twice at the Nutter Center.
Yet even though Dick coached all his life, he discouraged his son from following his path.
“He did everything he could to keep me from going into coaching,” Scott said. “He pushed me into a business management degree (at Delta State).”
As Dick explained it: “Scott is much more positive than me. I look for things that are going to be problems. I’m more of a glass-half-empty guy.
“I just knew there are a lot of heartaches in coaching. There’s a lot of pressure. It’s hard on families.”
Because the Illini season ran the same time as his at Champaign Central High School, Scott said his dad only saw him play four or five high school games and just a few at Delta State.
“The main reason I didn’t want him to coach is that you don’t want to see your children suffer,” Dick said. “When you don’t win enough for some (people) it can really be rocky.”
That scenario just played out at WSU for Donlon, a popular coach who led his team to the Horizon League title game three of the past four years, but never won. With no NCAA Tournament appearances in his six years, the administration and a few boosters got impatient.
Dick Nagy said his son — who ignored his dad’s advice and started his coaching career as an Illinois grad assistant for Henson and then became an assistant coach at SDSU and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville — “had it really tough” for a few years as SDSU transitioned from Division II to Division I.
“The thing that helped him was that he had been successful before and you don’t forget how to coach,” said Dick, who admitted while both he and his son are intense as coaches, “he’s more soft spoken than I was. I used to get after guys kind of like Simon Legree.”
After going to the NCAA Division II Tournament eight times in nine years, Scott regrouped as a Division I coach and went 121-50 the past five years. His teams won the Summit League’s berth to the NCAA Tournament in 2012, 2013 and this past March, went to the CBI in 2014 and the NIT in 2015.
“Leaving there was very difficult for him,” Dick said. “He vacillated, vacillated, vacillated. Over the years he’s only looked at a couple of other jobs — Northern Illinois and Ball State. It took a place like this to finally lure him away.”
Scott said, “This is the first time in my career where I felt I didn’t have to sell myself and convince somebody I could do a good job. They already knew that.”
Along with all the other reasons for coming, there’s the fact that WSU is closer to his family, and his wife’s, in Illinois.
Dick said the trip from his home in Chicago to Fairborn will be a good four hours shorter than it was going to South Dakota. And now that’s he’s retired, it means he’ll be able to come to even more games.
Which, Scott laughed, could be good — and bad:
“He’s pretty loud. Most of the times we try to sit him away from the parents because he’s yelling at the kids and that might make some of them mad.
“And I try to keep him away from the bench, too. But when we played Illinois State, they literally sat him right behind me.
“And when the official went by, he was yelling at him. The ref turned around and looked and I said, ‘Hey, that’s not my staff saying that. That’s just some fan.’ ”
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