Sunday Conversation: Scott Nagy

Sunday Conversation: Scott Nagy

In his first week at his new job as the head men’s basketball coach at Wright State, Scott Nagy was still getting to know his players while also getting comfortable with his new location.

He’s been in the office on a daily basis from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. getting organized, and it’s not helping that his cell phone is acting up.

Nagy, the Centennial graduate whose dad, Dick, was a longtime assistant coach with the Illini under Lou Henson, was able to find solid enough reception to chat with Marcus Jackson about his new gig, his hometown and what lies ahead for the Raiders:

Do you miss Champaign?
I’ve been gone so long, 21 years in South Dakota. My wife (Jamie) misses it like crazy because she’s from Decatur and went to the University of Illinois, and a lot of her friends are from Illinois. She’ll go back to homecoming. My undergrad wasn’t at Illinois, so I don’t have the ties to the University of Illinois like she does, even though my dad worked there. Jamie really misses it. I miss my friends that are there.

What was your best memory of your time on staff at Illinois?
Making it to the (1989) Final Four. That was a great experience. I’ve got all kinds of stories about that team. One of my favorites was when we went into LSU and we gave up 100 points to them and beat them by 27. That’s when Chris Jackson was at LSU, and he fouled out with about nine minutes to go and he had 27 points. We just annihilated them. It was pretty cool.

Did you ever imagine you’d be at South Dakota State for 21 years?
In coaching, you don’t think you’re going to be anywhere 21 years; that’s crazy. I think there were less than 10 coaches in the country at the Division I level that had been somewhere as long as I had. You don’t think about those things or expect it, but it was just a great 21 years, that’s for sure.

What are you most proud of from your time at South Dakota State?
Making that first NCAA tournament (in 2012) was probably the most overwhelming, emotional thing we ever did because we had gone through that transition and it was miserable. I’m sure I came close to being fired, and we switched ADs in the middle of it, and it would have been very easy for (athletic director) Justin (Sell) to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to bring in a new guy.’ Most coaches don’t make it through that kind of transition. I was one of two coaches that were at a place that won 20 games, lost 20 games and then won 20 games again. To be able to be there and go through those though times, see the program pull out of that and go to the NCAA tournament, was a tremendous accomplishment for all of us.

I’m sure there were opportunities along the way to move on, but what made Wright State the right move for you?
There were two things I told my wife that we weren’t going to do: We weren’t going to make any decision based on money, and we weren’t going to make any decision based on comfort. Obviously, I’m making more money here than I was making at South Dakota State, but I would have been a lot more comfortable at South Dakota State because I knew what I was doing there and we had a good program. I could have easily retired there. Even thought I was on 21 one-year deals — they don’t have any long-term deals — I was probably going to be able to be the coach at South Dakota State as long as I wanted.
Every other job I was involved with, they just couldn’t believe, coming from South Dakota, that we were doing what we were doing. There was something about South Dakota that made them hesitate. (Wright State) has everything in place to be a great program, from the facilities (to) just how they treat the men’s basketball program. I wouldn’t have gone somewhere I didn’t think you could really, really win there.

Lastly, for us, it’s more than half closer to all of our families. We’re five hours from dad up in Waukegan, we’re five hours from my wife’s parents in Nashville and my mom in Cookeville, Tenn. I don’t want to say it was an easy decision because it’s not easy to leave a place you were at for 21 years, but everything made it feel like this was the right time to make the move.

Do you still check in on the Illini every so often?
Oh, yeah. If they’re on TV, my wife’s watching. She’s locked into Illinois. I don’t pay a ton of attention to them because I’m locked into my season, too, but I still have a lot of friends at Illinois and a lot of coaching friends, so I do keep track of them.

What’s your dad up to these days?
He’s retired, and (moving to Wright State) is great for him because he can come to more of our games, and we’re going to be in the area a lot more. He’ll be over to see us play. He came over to the press conference. He’s real involved with his church and enjoying retirement.

Is he dishing out coaching advice?
No, he doesn’t, and he never really has. Every year he’ll come and spend a week or two when practice starts to watch the team and see how things are going to get a feel for it. He really never has given advice on coaching unless I asked for it. I think he’s proud of how we’ve done, and he’s just proud of me as a son, regardless of whether or not I’m coaching.

How much time have you spent with the players at Wright State so far?
We still have some recruiting to do, and it’s hard because we had a couple of workouts (last week) just to try to get a feel for what we have, and we’ve just got a lot of work to do to get a good feel for the guys that are here. We’re trying to get the classes balanced out — they’re not real balanced right now — and we’re trying to figure out how we do all that. We don’t have a great feel right now. We have a little bit of an understanding because of the guys that played last year, but four of the top six they lost. Two of those kids are back, and really nobody else has played a lot of minutes. There’s a lot of work to do in terms of evaluating.