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Former Yellow Jackets Find Success In Division I

Coach Davis cutting down the net
Coach Davis cutting down the net

Written by Chris Pence

Men’s basketball coaches of Randolph-Macon’s past continue to find success at the Division I level and beyond. With the program under only its fifth head coach since 1956, that scarcity is easily validated when you look at the legacies those coaches have left and are continuing to form.

(2016-17 records through games of Jan. 19)

Nathan Davis (Bucknell 14-6 overall, 6-1 and first place in Patriot League)

The most recent in that group of coaches is Randolph-Macon alumnus Nathan Davis. Davis’s career at R-MC culminated in a 141-39 overall record that included three ODAC Championships, six NCAA D-III Tournament appearances, and a spot in the Final Four during the 2009-210 season. When asked how his time as a Yellow Jacket molded him as a coach, Davis responded, “[It] is the basis for everything I believe in when it comes to coaching basketball and running a program.” Coach Davis also stressed how important his time was at Randolph-Macon in regards to the opportunities he’s had in his career.

Recently named head coach of Bucknell University in 2015, Coach Davis was the top assistant there before (2003-08) during the team’s first-ever NCAA D-I Tournament appearances. The most famous came in 2005 with their historic first-round win over Kansas. As head coach, Davis wasted no time in continuing the success he had at R-MC, leading the Bison to a Patriot League regular-season title in his first season. For those efforts, Davis earned Coach-of-the-Year honors for the Patriot League and was a finalist for the Joe B. Hall Award, given to the nation’s top first-year coach.

Reflecting on his time at Randolph-Macon, Davis learned that “winning is hard”. “There is a process every team must go through to be successful,” he believes. Davis understands that each season must be addressed with the same positive attitude towards adversity. “You must maintain your purpose whether you are playing well or not; whether you are winning or losing,” said Davis as he recalled having teams that reached the Final Four, or had 25 consecutive wins, or started the season 2-4. It is clear Davis had a successful process in place that worked while at Randolph-Macon and is continuing to show results in his time at Bucknell University.

Mike Rhoades (Rice 12-7 overall, 2-4 in Conference USA)

Now in his third season as head coach at Rice University, Rhoades enjoyed some nearby success at Virginia Commonwealth University before he left for Houston. Rhoades coached at VCU under Shaka Smart from 2009-14. During that time the Rams went 137-46 with four NCAA D-I Tournament appearances. Rhoades was on the sideline for that storied Final Four run in 2011 that saw the Rams take down the likes of USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State, and Kansas. Following that record season Coach Rhoades was named one of the Top 10 Assistant Coaches Under 40 by ESPN.com and was promoted to Associate Head Coach next to Shaka Smart.

Mike Rhoades was the head coach at R-MC for 10 seasons, recording a .722 winning percentage and receiving ODAC Coach of the Year honors from 2001-03. His squads garnered six ODAC Championships, four NCAA D-III Tournament appearances, and national No.1 rankings in two seasons. Even with all of that success, Coach Rhoades remembers how important it is to stay grounded.

“When we beat Hampden-Sydney in 2003 to win the regular season championship, we were No. 1 in the country and they were No. 2. The game was sold out for two weeks. After the game, everybody cleared out. My parents and my wife were waiting for me in the bleachers and I walked out pushing the dirty uniforms to go wash them. It was one of the things where you’re coaching the No. 1 team in Division III, but you still have to have your feet on the ground as I was taking the dirty laundry to the equipment room. I always bring that up to everyone, especially our coaches. You have to have a level of humility while you do this because there are always peaks and valleys. That’s a memory that I use all the time.”

Coach Rhoades believed his time at Randolph-Macon was also more than just about basketball. “I came there at 23 years old and was there for 13 great years. I met so many great people who became mentors to me and great friends.” Through Rhoades’ words it’s clear to get a sense of why virtually every coach at Randolph-Macon has been successful. “With the culture of Randolph-Macon you can have great aspirations and dare to be great…the basketball situation is second to none.” Coach Rhoades appreciated how much the alumni cared about the program and remembered how special a time it was for him to coach and grow at Randolph-Macon.

Gregg Marshall (Wichita State 16-4 overall, 6-1 and second place in Missouri Valley Conference)

Now in his 10th season at powerhouse Wichita State, Gregg Marshall remembers the lasting impact of his time at Randolph-Macon. “My time at Randolph-Macon with Hal Nunnally was the impetus for me getting into coaching. He was a maker of men and also a Hall-of-Fame type coach. He saw that I had the ability to be a coach while I was a player for him and persuaded me to get into the business. Were it not for him, I would not be in coaching at all.” The 1985 graduate and assistant coach under Nunnally from 1985-87 recalled that Nunnally’s philosophy shaped his own approach to the game and that he still employs the ideals of tough man-to-man defense and motion offense as head coach of the Shockers.

Under Marshall’s coaching those Shockers have gone 424-168 with five straight NCAA tournament bids, a Final Four appearance in 2013, and a Sweet Sixteen in 2015. Wichita State’s impressive undefeated regular season of 35-0 in 2013-14 helped Marshall capture the Naismith College Coach of the Year award. Prior to his time at Wichita State, Marshall helmed Winthrop from 1998-2007, in which his teams won seven conference championships and appeared in seven NCAA D-I tournaments. In his 18 seasons as a head coach, Marshall’s teams have captured 10 regular season conference titles and advanced to the NCAA tournament 12 times. He has also won seven conference Coach-of-the-Year awards during that span.

Chuck Moore (No. 8 Richard Bland 15-3 overall, 8-1 and first place in NJCAA Region X Conference Division 2)

Although only an assistant at Randolph-Macon from 2010-12, Chuck Moore has carried on that legacy of success just down the road as Director of Athletics and Men’s Basketball Coach at Richard Bland Junior College in Petersburg, Va. During the 2014-15 season, Moore led the Statesmen to a 32-4 record (19-3 in Region X Conference), No.1 ranking, 17-game win streak, and an NJCAA D-II National Championship. Coach Moore’s accolades include multiple Coach of the Year awards from the NABC, Spalding NJCAA, NJCAA District 6, and VaSID.

A Common Theme for Success

One name that seemed to keep coming up was the longtime Yellow Jacket Hal Nunnally. Whether these coaches directly commented on his influence or whether they assisted/played under him, he seemed to be impacting the program in some way. Both Coach Gregg Marshall and Coach Nathan Davis continue to implement his ideas of the game; Davis saying, “My entire offensive and defensive philosophies can be traced back to my days playing for Coach Nunnally.” It’s clear how impactful Coach Nunnally has been, not only on the history of Randolph-Macon, but of the entire college game. One thing for certain is that the Yellow Jackets’ program has a storied, successful history to be proud of and to build upon in the future.