Making the Jump to Division I
In April, Nathan Davis was named the Head Coach at Bucknell University after spending the previous six years as the Head Coach at Randolph-Macon College. Davis led Randolph-Macon to incredible success, including a 141-39 (.783) record, three Old Dominion Athletic Conference championships, and six NCAA Division III Tournament berths.
Davis was already extremely familiar with the Bucknell program, having served as an Assistant Coach with the program from 2003 to 2008. He played a big role in leading the Bison to back-to-back Patriot League Championships and NCAA Tournament appearances, including consecutive first round upset victories.
A 1997 graduate of Randolph-Macon, Davis was a two-year captain of the Yellow Jackets’ and was a two-time All-ODAC selection.
How special is it to return to Bucknell after serving as an Assistant Coach there from 2003 to 2008 and achieving so much success?
It is great to be back at Bucknell. The five years I spent as an assistant from 2003 to 2008 for Pat Flannery was a special time. We had some outstanding teams, great kids and I learned a tremendous amount about coaching.
What makes Bucknell such a special place for student-athletes?
First, Bucknell obviously provides all it's students with an elite education. Saying that, what truly makes it special is that the University forces it's students outside of their individual comfort zones. You will be engaged with people from diverse areas and cultures. Your education will take you beyond the subject matter and prepare you to excel in all the different situations you will deal with on a daily basis when you enter the working world.
In your first year as Head Coach, what goals have you set forth for your program?
I don't like the idea of having multiple goals. Why limit yourself to winning 20 games or winning a championship? Also, you can have a phenomenal year and not reach any of those goals. Our goal is simple, but hard to achieve. When the year is over we want to be able to say that we became the best basketball team we could become. If we can do that, the rest will take care of itself.
Prior to returning to Bucknell, you were the Head Coach at your alma mater, Randolph Macon? How has your experience as a Division III Head Coach prepared you to be a successful Division I Head Coach?
From a basketball stand point, there really isn't a difference in coaching from DI to DIII. There are a lot of great coaches out there in DIII, DII, NAIA, and Junior College. Saying that, there are a couple of areas that I believe the past six years at R-MC have better prepared me for this job. First, there is no substitute for gaining experience. Dealing with the good and the bad that come with being a Head Basketball Coach both on and off the court. Second, at R-MC our program carried extremely high expectations on a yearly basis. I had to learn how to manage or embrace those expectations and not become crippled by them.
What are some areas that Assistant Coaches should better prepare for that they may not think of before becoming a Head Coach?
First and foremost is to understand that you don't have all the answers. When I was an assistant I had this idea very early that I was ready to run my own program. It wasn't until I finally had the opportunity to be the Head Coach that I understood how wrong my younger self was about my readiness for the job.
Two, understand there is not a right or wrong way to do things. You are first and foremost a teacher. Whatever it is you want to do, the style you want to play you had better be able to teach it to your team.
Three, to continue on from number two, I think working for different coaches that play with different styles is very important. The more you learn the more you know. If you only learn one style you are limiting yourself.
Four, work for Head Coaches that give you the opportunity to grow professional through attending clinics and having a voice in practice and games.
Five, treat everyone you meet with respect. There are a ton of great coaches out there. Most coaches, even the ones who aren't having great success, are good at their jobs. You also never know who will be able to help you down the road.
Six, recruit, recruit, recruit. You are only as good as your players. You can draw up the best play ever, but if your players are not capable of making the shot or the play at the end, your play was really worthless.
Seven, learn how to schedule. You don't want the team you have to beat to reach your ultimate goal to be the best team on your schedule. You also need to schedule games that you feel good about having a chance to win. It is a delicate balance.
Last, and probably the most important thing, is to be yourself. Don't try to be Gregg Popovich, Coach K, Dean Smith, or Bobby Knight. Be who you are. If you don't, eventual your players will see through the facade and lose their respect for you.
What advice do you have for current non-Division I Head Coaches who desire to become a Division I Head Coach?
One, make the big-time where you are. If you spend your time focusing on what is next, you will not be focused on doing the best at the job you have. You will not have the opportunity to move to DI if you do not have success. Even if you do have success, you may not have the opportunity. So much of getting that opportunity is out of your control. It is good fortune and being in the right place at the right time.
Two, work hard and recruit. You have to have success and you have to show that you can handle that portion of the job.
Three, don't be afraid to take a chance, but don't take a job just because it is a higher level. Take and pursue jobs because you know/believe that the job is a great opportunity.
During the course of the 2015-16 basketball season, Brian will be interviewing new Head Coaches to gain insight on their journey, programs, and advice for other coaches who desire to become a Head Coach.