NATCHITOCHES – Northwestern State basketball coach Mike McConathy would cringe at being described as “elite” as it’s the antithesis of his down-home personality, but Saturday afternoon, he joined the elite in his profession.
McConathy picked up his 600th career collegiate coaching victory as the Demons topped Lamar, 96-84 . It was his 248th win in 16 years at NSU after 352 victories in 16 seasons at Bossier Parish Community College in his hometown of Bossier City.
He is among an elite group of 36 active college coaches who have at least 600 career wins. The list includes iconic figures such as Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim, Rick Barnes, Rollie Massimino, Roy Williams and Rick Pitino, and small college legends like Oklahoma Christian’s Dan Hayes, David Hixon of Amherst, two of those with more than 1,000 wins – Oregon Tech’s Danny Miles and McKendree’s Harry Statham.
Passing the milestone was doubtlessly more exciting for his players and staff than it was for “Coach Mike,” whose focus has always been first and foremost on those around him. But his career achievements, as an athlete and coach, have kept a spotlight on him since his teenage years as a high school All-American nicknamed “Opie” at Airline High School.
In Southland Conference basketball history, McConathy has a unique and remarkable place as a player and head coach.
He’s regarded as one of the greatest players in league history, scoring 2,033 points (20.7 per game) from 1973-77 at Louisiana Tech, leading the Bulldogs to the 1976 conference crown as the Southland Player of the Year.
He ranks among the greatest coaches too, entering his 16th season at Northwestern State, where his father, his sons, and his uncles all played.
Along with his 600th career collegiate coaching victory, McConathy will coach his 1,000th college contest this season in the Feb. 9 home contest against rival Stephen F. Austin. He owns the most wins by a college coach in Louisiana basketball history, eclipsing legendary bench bosses like Dale Brown, Leon Barmore, Fred Hobdy and Mike Vining.
His teams have scored road wins against Oklahoma State, Mississippi State, Auburn and Oregon State, and also knocked off No. 15 Iowa in a 14 vs. 3 seed upset in the 2006 NCAA Tournament.
He is a master of March Madness. McConathy’s Demons have made seven Southland Tournament championship game appearances in their 11 conference tourney trips during his 15 seasons. Only the Demons and Louisiana-Monroe (1990-93) have made four straight championship game appearances in the five decades of Southland basketball competition. NSU is 17-8 in Southland Tournament play, most recently nearly spoiling 2014 champ Stephen F. Austin’s chance at NCAA tourney glory, a year after NSU captured the 2013 Southland Tournament crown.
That ’13 title gave NSU its third NCAA Tournament appearance under McConathy, the most by any current Southland member. The Demons won their first games in the 2001 and 2006 NCAA brackets, dumping Winthrop in the inaugural Opening Round game in Dayton in ’01 and overcoming a 17-point deficit in the last 8:32 to stun Iowa 64-63 in ’06 at Auburn Hills, Mich., in one of the most memorable games in modern March Madness history.
McConathy’s core philosophies include the belief “the MVP of our team IS our team.” His use of a deep rotation, often with wave substitutions of five-for-five, is a tried-and-true method that annually has NSU playing its best basketball down the stretch.
The Demons also are toughened each season by a challenging non-conference slate of games – NSU played the nation’s fifth-toughest out-of-conference schedule in 2013-14 – and the combination of giving significant playing time to 10-13 Demons all year long helps produce surges like 12 wins in the final 15 games last season.
His program is #SouthlandStrong: The Demons are 30-10 in conference regular-season play in the last two-plus years, 46-24 in the last four. McConathy is 166-123 (.573) against Southland foes, including 149-115 in regular-season matchups.
They benefit from a big homecourt advantage. Venerable Prather Coliseum has more on-the-floor seating than any other Southland venue. The Demons average more than 2,000 fans per game in league play in a tough-for-visiting teams environment. NSU is 26-5 at home overall in the past two-plus seasons, and has won 71 percent of its home games under McConathy.
It all attracts quality performers. This year’s team features the last two Southland Freshman of the Year award-winners, guards Jalan West and Zeek Woodley, and NSU had the 2013 league Newcomer of the Year also, DeQuan Hicks.
Known for years as “Coach Mike” to his players, McConathy is among a select group of major college mentors. Less than two dozen Division I basketball coaches have been at their current school for 16 years. His peers in this distinction include Krzyzewski (Duke), Donovan (Florida), Tom Izzo (Michigan State), Barnes (Texas) and Boeheim (Syracuse).
“Coach Mike” is nationally respected by those who coach, and cover, the game.
For the seventh year, he is part of the ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ Top 25 voting panel. He does his own ballot each week. He’s been late once in six years – and that was on a weekend the team was returning from Hawaii. He has also served a three-year term on the NCAA’s coaches’ regional advisory committee assisting with the NCAA Tournament selection process.
He received the 2012 National Association of Basketball Coaches Guardians of the Game Pillar Award for Education during NCAA Final Four weekend in New Orleans. It is among the most prestigious awards presented by the NABC, representing one of the four core values of the Guardians of the Game program – education, leadership, advocacy and service.
McConathy has constantly promoted educational values for, and with, his players. Almost 90 percent of the seniors in his NSU program have graduated. Eight players had grade point averages higher than 3.0 in the fall semester.
The Demons received “public recognition” from the NCAA in May 2014 and in May 2006 for ranking among the nation’s top 10 percent Academic Progress Rate scores in the NCAA’s annual report. They had a perfect score in May 2011 and have consistently ranked among state, Southland Conference and even national leaders in that and the NCAA’s Graduation Success Rate in McConathy’s 15 seasons.
National television and radio analysts and announcers such as Tim Brando, Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery of CBS Sports, Doug Gottlieb and Jerry Punch of ESPN, and Charles Barkley have expressed their admiration of McConathy, as much for his core values as for his coaching acumen.
Three Division I head coaches – Virginia Tech’s Buzz Williams, McNeese’s Dave Simmons and Mark Slessinger of New Orleans – have served on his Demons coaching staff.
And for those who know him best, his remarkable resume just scratches the surface. The man they know is even more special than the record he has as a basketball coach.
— Northwestern State Sports Information