By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports
Sometimes, you just know it’s right.
Kevin Bostian did, once he vetted Corey Gipson and spent time talking with him.
Six weeks after Bostian sat down in his office in Natchitoches, as the new Northwestern State athletics director, he was standing behind a podium Wednesday morning, introducing his first major hire, new Demons’ basketball coach Gipson.
A week ago, in the wake of the exit of iconic 23-year head coach Mike McConathy, Bostian had a list of characteristics he thought were crucial to find the best fit at NSU. That template evolved as he sorted through an initial list of 30 candidates identified by the same search firm, Bowlsby Sports Associates, that managed the process bringing him to Natchitoches from North Carolina. The basketball candidates were pared to 16, then narrowed to nine who got Zoom interviews, and four finalists got another Zoom conversation last weekend.
What made Gipson, who had no head coaching experience and only one postseason tournament trip as a coach (this year’s National Invitation Tournament with a 23-11 Missouri State team), the man for the job?
“For us to move forward with the basketball program, I needed make sure the new hire and I connected. I felt that from Day One with him,” said Bostian. “The thing that stood out was his recruiting. He has a track record of recruiting high level talent, players who have made it to the NBA.
“Most of all, it was how he cares for people, starting with his family, and what people at various places he’s been told me about, his gift of building family-type relationships with everyone in, and around the program. His passion was overwhelming,” said Bostian.
Once Gipson walked into his new work home, it was more than a feeling. It was a smell.
The 41-year-old, his wife and their three children arrived in Natchitoches to begin the new chapter in their lives late Tuesday afternoon. That evening, they visited venerable Prather Coliseum, home to Demon hoops since 1964, featuring an array of championship and postseason banners dating back before World War II. But it wasn’t the look.
“It just smelled like basketball,” said Gipson, who spent the past seven seasons on the Missouri State staff, the last six as an associate head coach. “It had a stench to it that just made sense.
“My wife (April) said, ‘What you think about it?’ I said, ‘It smells right.’ And (their adorable 2-year-old daughter) Frankie said, ‘Yes.’ “
For Gipson, it feels right to take charge of a program for the first time 15 years into his college coaching career, with four previous stops. The last seven years were in Springfield, Mo., in a smoldering basketball hotbed, with fans stoked again in the past two seasons by the Bears’ 40-18 record. One of those wins came Dec. 19, 2020, over the Demons.
“I met (McConathy) when they came to play us, and he’s a fine human being. He is so highly regarded around the country in the coaching profession, as a coach, as a gentleman,” Gipson said. “You can see the glow and the love he has for others, so I know he’ll embrace my family and I.
“You can’t replace a legend like that. He has a legacy in this town and a legacy in basketball that’s deep rooted. I don’t intend to replace him, I intend to lean on him, intend to be his brother.”
McConathy was out of town Wednesday, but left a welcome letter sitting on his old desk, for the new man in charge.
He’s taking over a young, talented and unsettled roster. Star freshman Kendal Coleman is in the transfer portal considering opportunities far and wide, the first key player to officially open his recruitment. With the school on spring break this week, Gipson’s first contact with most of the team will be on the phone, but he doesn’t need to watch tape to get an overall sense of the talent on hand.
“We’ve felt some of those guys on our wood, so we know what’s here, and we know what we need moving forward,” said Gipson, who will get a four-year contract with a hike from McConathy’s salary, which Bostian said was below average to near the bottom of the range in the Southland Conference.
While those at his introduction, including most of McConathy’s coaching staff, gave him a warm welcome, Gipson subtly acknowledged he understands how others are frustrated about the transition to new leadership.
He opened his remarks with the story of his most agonizing experience, losing his mother when he was 9 years old. He explained that his father remarried, and admitted he struggled with that for quite a while.
“We don’t often understand why we’re put into different positions of change in life, and I didn’t understand it as a kid,” Gipson said. “But I know God put me in that position to prepare me for today and prepare me for this change.
“I guarantee you this change won’t be harder than that … and just like we worked through that change as a family, we’ll work through this change with this new family.”