By Jason Pugh, Northwestern State Assistsnt Athletic Director for Media Relations
NATCHITOCHES – Mike McConathy, who built the Northwestern State men’s basketball program into a winner on and off the court, announced his retirement Monday after 23 years as the Demons’ head coach.
There will be a press conference at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Prather Coliseum to honor and celebrate Louisiana’s all-time leading coach in college basketball victories. Fans are encouraged to attend and show their appreciation for McConathy.
McConathy, the son of former NSU standout and first-round NBA draftee John McConathy, amassed 330 of his 682 career wins at Northwestern State. The first 352 victories of McConathy’s 39-year collegiate head coaching career came at Bossier Parish Community College, a program he started and turned into a national tournament participant before arriving in Natchitoches ahead of the 1999-2000 season.
In addition to the sheer volume of victories, McConathy took the Demons to the first three NCAA Tournament berths in school history, winning games in the 2001 and 2006 tournaments. The Demons’ 64-63 opening-round win against No. 3 seed Iowa on Jermaine Wallace’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer remains one of March Madness’ defining upsets.
“My 23 years at Northwestern State have been memorable,” McConathy said. “This place means so much to me and my family, and to have the ability and the opportunity to do what we did will forever be a part of me. (Former NSU President) Dr. (Randy) Webb and (former NSU director of athletics) Greg (Burke) gave me a chance to come home in 1999, and I am forever thankful to them for that. We wanted to win games, but it was always more important that we prepared our student-athletes to be more than basketball players. We wanted them to be good students, good players and, most importantly, good people. I believe, for the past 23 years, we have done that.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my wife, Connie, who poured her heart, soul and voice into supporting myself and this program. It takes a special person to be a part of a coach’s family and journey, and we could not have achieved what we did without her unfailing support. Having the ability to watch my sons, Michael and Logan, grow up around this program and wear Northwestern State across their chest like their grandfather and great-uncles did was truly special.”
The Demons’ three NCAA Tournament berths under McConathy came by virtue of their three Southland Conference Tournament championships. McConathy and his teams routinely peaked in and around tournament time, reaching seven SLC Tournament championship games in his tenure.
His 23-year career on the NSU bench was highlighted by consecutive Southland Conference regular-season championships in 2004-05 and 2005-06, followed by an SLC East Division crown in 2006-07. Those three years were part of a four-season run in which the Demons reached the championship game of the Southland Conference Tournament each year, becoming the second SLC team to accomplish the feat.
Under McConathy’s leadership, the Demons scored regular-season road victories against Oklahoma State, Mississippi State, Auburn and Oregon State. A respected member of the coaching fraternity, McConathy has been a member of the USA TODAY Coaches Top 25 poll voting board since 2006.
He coached 30 All-Southland Conference players and built a coaching tree that counts current Texas A&M head coach Buzz Williams and New Orleans’ Mark Slessinger among its members.
“Mike McConathy’s impact on Northwestern State men’s basketball and the athletic department as a whole cannot be overstated,” NSU Director of Athletics Kevin Bostian said. “His legacy is not defined strictly by the number of games he won here but by the number of young men he affected in a positive manner away from the game of basketball. His dedication, loyalty and genuineness has made him a pilar of the Natchitoches community. He has been a servant leader in every sense of the term, and what he and his staff and players have built stands a testament to Coach Mike as a coach and as a person.”
McConathy’s time as head coach was marked by equally strong performances on and away from the court.
Almost 90 percent of McConathy’s Northwestern State players have left with their undergraduate degrees. Twice since 2006, the Demons have ranked among the nation’s top-10 percent in the NCAA’s annual Academic Progress Rate scores.
McConathy’s emphasis on education reached him as well, earning the 2012 NABC Guardians of the Game Pillar Award for Education. His players routinely found their way onto the NABC Honors Court, which recognizes juniors and seniors who have at least a 3.2 grade point average. A program-record five Demons were part of the 2021 Honors Court.
A former Southland Conference Player of the Year at Louisiana Tech, McConathy joined his father and uncles George and Leslie in Northwestern State’s N-Club Hall of Fame in 2019. He also has been inducted into Northwestern State’s Gallaspy College of Education and Human Development Hall of Distinguished Educators.
“I could not have asked for a better group of student-athletes to have been associated with for more than two decades here at NSU,” McConathy said. “They didn’t help just build a team, they built a foundation and a legacy for Demon basketball and how to handle their business on the court, in the community and in the classroom. Their success in those areas is every bit as fulfilling, if not more, than the games we won on the court.”