By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports
Seems a little strange that a guy who has been known as “Opie” almost all of his life would be 66 years old.
“Opie is eligible for Social Security” doesn’t seem right.
“Opie is on Medicare” … hard to digest that one.
Can Mike McConathy really be 66 years old? OK, so maybe he’s not Jud Fletcher – Andy Griffith Show aficionados will get the reference – but when it comes to basketball in this part of the world, McConathy certainly has been in the public eye for a long time. First as star player at Airline High School, then star player at Louisiana Tech, NBA draft pick, briefly European pro, then high school coach (girls, at Airline). He started a junior college program from scratch and is now the only coach Northwestern State has had this millennium.
The question is: how much longer will he not be in the public eye?
If McConathy knows, he’s not saying.
“I don’t know anything else to do,” he said when asked if he thought he’d be coaching at age 66. “I guess probably not. There have been periods when I was 60 that I had thoughts of doing something else.
“But a lot of times when you are around younger people, it makes you feel younger,” he added. “You don’t think of yourself as being older. I mean, just the other day it dawned on me that I’m 66 years old. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
McConathy became the NSU coach in the 1999-2000 season after beginning the program at Bossier Parish Community College in 1983. He’s won more games (682) than any other college basketball coach in the history of the state. That total includes two NCAA Tournament wins (2001, Winthrop; 2006, 15th-ranked Iowa) and a third March Madness appearance in 2013.
Go ahead and name a Louisiana coach, men’s or women’s; in the wins department, McConathy has them beat.
“I don’t have a cutoff (date to stop coaching).” he said “The biggest things are comfort and to feel like you are still making a difference. We’ve been at the crossroads the last few years and it’s fixing to get a lot tougher. Mainly from a loss of players.”
He is referring to new NCAA regulations regarding the transfer portal, but there are other things at play as well.
This hasn’t been the easiest of the 23 years McConathy has had at NSU. The Demons are 9-21 and will close the regular season Saturday against Southeastern Louisiana with a 3 o’clock game at Prather Coliseum. Of course, it’s not easy when you’ve got Houston and LSU (both Top 20 teams at the time Northwestern played them) on your schedule, plus SMU, Texas A&M and Oklahoma.
Oh, did somebody say the Baylor Bears? Yep, those guys, too; the ones that won a little thing called the national championship last year.
Thirty-nine seasons of college basketball is a lot of bus rides. A lot of Tuesday night recruiting trips to high school gyms smelling of burnt popcorn.
But Mike McConathy learned a long time ago that it’s not just about winning the next game on your schedule. His program’s 90 percent graduation rate and record of community service is exceptional.
“They used to ask (legendary UCLA coach) John Wooden how he thought he did,” he said. “And he used to say, ‘Why don’t you ask me in 25 years and I’ll be able to tell you?’
“His perspective is the way it is supposed to be. (But) it’s not the way it is today. We’ve got a kid right now who played with us in 2013 and went overseas and played a few years. He’s back now (at NSU) and getting his degree all these years later. It’s kids like that … they figure it out, what they need to do. That’s a great thing about coaching — but not what everybody sees.”
Photo by CHRIS REICH, Northwestern State