Mike McConathy retires after 23 years as NSU basketball coach

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

All of his 66 years, or at least since he became addicted to a ball, a basket and a gymnasium, Mike McConathy has played or coached basketball, until Monday.

That’s when he told his bosses at Northwestern State University that he was retiring as head basketball coach, following 23 years that not only transformed the Northwestern program, but also deeply impacted the university and the Natchitoches community.

The announcement came in a press release from the university Monday afternoon. A press conference is scheduled Tuesday at 10 a.m. on the court in Prather Coliseum. The public is welcome to attend, entering on the east side of the arena.

The decision, said McConathy, was entirely his.

“I’m at peace with it,” he said. “I’m going to miss coaching something fierce. But God’s got a plan and I’m just going to follow a different path. I’ve been incredibly blessed and I’m deeply grateful.”

He steps away as the winningest college basketball coach in state history, with a combined total of 682 victories in 39 seasons, 16 (1983-99) starting and building a powerhouse program at Bossier Parish Community College in his hometown of Bossier City, and since 1999 at his father’s alma mater, Northwestern.

Along with three NCAA Tournament appearances, seven Southland Conference championship game berths, two outright Southland regular-season titles and the most significant victory in more than a century of athletics at Northwestern – the 2006 NCAA Tournament upset of 15th-ranked Iowa – McConathy brought immense value to the university, community and region.

McConathy’s teams have graduated almost 90 percent of their players. He was named a “Pillar of the Game” for education by the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

Community engagement and service has been a cornerstone of NSU basketball under his leadership. McConathy himself, staff and players were often seen doing landscape maintenance, trash pickup and other projects, along with making school visits and taking part in civic events and projects.

He was a high school All-America player at Airline High School in Bossier City, recruited by power programs including LSU and Oklahoma. He chose Louisiana Tech and became one of the Bulldogs’ all-time greats, averaging 21 points in 98 career games, leading Tech to a 1976 Southland Conference title.

Hired just a week shy of exactly 23 years ago, McConathy took over a once-proud basketball program that had only five winning seasons in 24 years since NSU joined NCAA Division I in 1977. He produced 11.

His impact was immediate. Instead of running off players from a losing squad, he embraced them, built around them and in his first season led the Demons to not only their first winning record in eight years, but the brink of their first NCAA Tournament appearance, reaching the program’s first Southland Conference championship game.

A year later, McConathy guided the Demons to the Big Dance and made an even bigger splash, with NSU (19-13) winning the first-ever NCAA Opening Round Game in Dayton, Ohio, 71-67 over Winthrop in front of a nationwide TV audience.

It was the first of three NCAA Tournament trips for McConathy’s teams. The next, in 2006, brought lasting acclaim for NSU, with a stunning, last-second comeback triumph over 15th-ranked Iowa, the Big Ten Conference Tournament champions, 64-63.

A third NCAA appearance came in 2013 after his last 20-win season, when a 23-9 squad lost to Florida in March Madness. The Demons made another postseason appearance two years later, falling at home in the College Invitational Tournament to Tennessee-Martin, finishing a 19-13 season.

However, that was the last overall winning record NSU has posted. A knee injury to star player Jalan West in the next game, the 2015-16 season opener at Ole Miss, ultimately crippled the team for that season and the next two as West unsuccessfully tried to regain his form.

NSU has had winning Southland Conference records in 2020 and 2021 and had a 15-15 overall mark in 2019-20.