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Coach acknowledges he’s ‘a little unusual’

NATCHITOCHES, La. (BP)–The day after his basketball team suffered a 100-63 loss, Coach Mike McConathy took his entire squad to church.

“I’m sure some of the kids were upset that I made them get up and go to church following the lopsided loss and long bus ride home” to Natchitoches, La., from Troy State in southeastern Alabama, McConathy said.

“But I was trying to make a point” to his Northwestern State University team, McConathy said.

On this particular Sunday, he gathered his team before entering First Baptist Church in Natchitoches. “I said, ‘Guys, I know you think I brought you here as punishment, but you are wrong. I want you to know people here [at First Baptist] love you whether you lose by one or by 20.

“‘God doesn’t care whether you win or lose, but whether or not you have used your talents and skills to the very best of your abilities,'” McConathy said. “‘Therefore, you need to spend time to honor and thank Him.’

“It was interesting to see how the people in the church really did reach out to the team,” McConathy said. “I thought it was important for [the team] to see this, because we had another big game the next day.”

Now in his 10th season at Northwestern State and 26th overall as a coach, the former Louisiana Tech standout (1973-77) looks at coaching as his calling.

“I look at this job as a call to coach much like a missionary being called into the field,” McConathy said. “God has put me in a position to influence a lot of people and I take that very seriously” -– beginning with his family (he has two sons) and his prayer life and church involvement.

“I’m an early riser, so my quiet time is usually in the morning whether I’m at home or on the road with the team,” McConathy said. “When I am home, I teach a junior high Sunday School class [at First Baptist] and my wife Connie teaches a children’s class. With as many road games as we have each season, I still make sure I’m there 75 to 80 percent of the time.”

While he doesn’t push his Christian faith on his team, he does make sure they attend Sunday services as a team and quietly encourages them to have a relationship with Jesus Christ.

“I do not directly get involved in their spiritual walks with Christ, but indirectly. Through positive reinforcement, devotionals before practice and games and, hopefully by my example, I encourage them to have a relationship with our heavenly Father,” McConathy said.

The coach acknowledged he’s “a little unusual by today’s standards.”

“When I’m recruiting a prospective player in their homes, I tell them and their parents, up front, there will be no braids, no Mohawks, no rings and no piercings.

“Why would I do this? Because I want to first let them and their parents know I am a no-nonsense type of guy. And, secondly …, it builds a relationship that is centered around trust,” McConathy said. “I just don’t tell them what they want to hear, but I tell them the truth from day one. I tell them you will be cared for, respected and treated the way I would want my own sons treated.

“Everyone you come into contact with deserves the same, whether it’s a teammate, a student trainer, a janitor, a bus driver or a waitress in a restaurant hundreds of miles away from home.”

In addition to being a straight shooter, McConathy has gained a reputation as a talented coach. In 1999 when he arrived at Northwestern State — where his father and uncles had starred in the 1950s — he found a program in disarray.

In 24 years of Division I competition, NSU had just five winning seasons and had never been close to a conference championship or an NCAA tournament berth.

His first team posted NSU’s first winning season in eight years and became the first Demon team to reach the Southland Conference tournament championship game.

The next year, Northwestern State won the 2001 SLC tournament title, reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history and notched an opening round win. McConathy and his squad suddenly were thrust into the national spotlight.

His faith helped him and his team to stay grounded.

“Satan could have filled my head with all sorts of things if I had let him,” McConathy said. “But I let two pieces of Scripture — Philippians 4:6 and John 3:16 — guide me through it all, and I kept focused on God.”

Success has continued for McConathy and his teams.

In 2004-05, the team won 21 games (the most for the Demons since 1960), a Southland Conference co-championship homecourt advantage in the SLC tournament and an ESPN-televised championship game at home. But a stunning last-minute loss kept them out of the NCAA tournament.

The following year (2005-06) the team had a school record 26 victories, won the SLC title by the widest margin in nine seasons and made its fourth Southland Conference tournament championship game appearance in seven years. They topped off the season with a stunning, last-second win over Iowa in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

That tournament victory opened an even bigger avalanche of national media attention.

Yet, through the crushing wave of interviews and appearances, McConathy refused to let it overwhelm him or his team.

“It wasn’t about us; it was about Him,” McConathy said. “Certainly we had success, but it was all due to Him. Keeping that in the forefront helped to keep me grounded. Success is wonderful, but it is how we handle the opportunities God gives us that matters most. You can never lose sight of that fact, because if you do, then Satan wins.”
Philip Timothy is a staff writer for the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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