A stop sign on Route 66: retirement for NSU’s iconic coach

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

He coached more than 1,200 college basketball games in 39 seasons, but Mike McConathy won’t be doing that any longer.

Monday, at age 66, he stepped away from the only profession he’s known. The Bossier City native told his bosses at Northwestern State University he was retiring as head basketball coach, following 23 years that not only transformed the Northwestern program, but also deeply impacted the university, the Natchitoches community and much of northwest Louisiana.

A press conference, open to the public, is this morning at 10 on the court in NSU’s Prather Coliseum.

McConathy previously spent 16 seasons (1983-99) building the Bossier Parish Community College program from scratch into a junior college power that posted 25 or more wins in each of his final seven years.

McConathy’s career ends with him standing as Louisiana’s winningest college basketball coach, man or woman, with 682 victories against 536 defeats. His record at NSU dipped under .500 three years ago and finished 330-377 – but notably, in 23 years of Southland Conference play, against peer competition, his Demons were 220-203.

His schedules annually included multiple non-conference “guarantee games” he slated, after which the home team pays an appearance fee to the usually overmatched visitors. Having played roughly 125 of those, McConathy is estimated to have brought home around $5 million to support NSU’s athletic budget through the years, including nearly half-a-million this season in seven such contests against the likes of LSU, Oklahoma, Houston, Baylor and Texas A&M – four NCAA Tournament teams, including the reigning national champion, and another (the Aggies) who analysts agree should’ve gotten invited to this year’s Big Dance.

Taking over a program with only five winning seasons in 24 years of NCAA Division I membership, McConathy immediately produced two. He led the Demons to three NCAA Tournament appearances, the only ones by a north Louisiana men’s program this century and the first for NSU, in 2001, 2006 and 2013. Northwestern won twice, over Winthrop in 2001 and beating No. 15-ranked Iowa in 2006. His teams made seven Southland Tournament championship game appearances, including a record four straight from 2005-08, and won the regular-season titles in 2005 (21-12) and 2006 (26-8, the most wins in school history).

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.

“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.”

McConathy’s father, Johnny, starred at Northwestern from 1947-51. His No. 14 jersey is one of three retired by the Demons. Uncles George and Leslie McConathy were also standouts for coach H. Lee Prather just after World War II. All were educators, and that is what the retiring NSU coach valued most.

“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,” he said.

Almost 90 percent of McConathy’s players have left NSU with their undergraduate degrees. Twice, Demons ranked among the nation’s top-10 percent in the NCAA’s annual Academic Progress Rate scores.

McConathy’s emphasis earned him the 2012 National Association of Basketball Coaches’ Guardians of the Game Pillar Award for Education.

He taught classes throughout his NSU career and has been inducted into the university’s Gallaspy College of Education and Human Development Hall of Distinguished Educators.

In 2019, McConathy joined his father and uncles in the university’s N-Club Hall of Fame for athletic accomplishments. A prep All-American at Airline High in Bossier City, he is also in the Louisiana Tech Athletic Hall of Fame as a star for the Bulldogs from 1973-77, when he averaged 21 points per game in 98 contests, was a three-time All-Southland Conference pick, and the 1976 Southland Player of the Year for a conference championship team.

Photo: by CHRIS REICH, Northwestern State