Two weeks ago, coach Richard Pitino and the University of Minnesota officially announced the hiring of Nate Pomeday as the new Director of Basketball Operations. (Josh Adel, the former DOBO, will remain on the staff in sort of a hybrid role.)
In Pomeday, the Gophers' young staff gets a coaching veteran that has worked at just about every level of the game: head coach (Calumet College (Ind.) of St. Joseph where he was, at the time of the hire, the youngest head coach in the country), assistant (most recently at Oregon State), DOBO (at Full Package Athletic's, Illinois' largest basketball club). He played Big Ten ball at Northwestern, graduating in 1999, and then spent four years working the Wildcats games as a color commentator for WGN.
Along the way, Pomeday became somewhat familiar with the current Gophers staff. Assistant Ben Johnson joined the Wildcats as a freshman the fall after Pomeday left. Pomeday crossed paths with assistant Kimani Young when the latter ran an organization that helped placed talented individuals at preparatory schools across the country. At the time, Pomeday was an assistant at Lake Forest Academy, a prep school in Illinois. This past year, the Wisconsin native -- don't fret, Pomeday grew up a fan of Marquette, not that other school -- got to know both Pitino and assistant Dan McHale a little on the recruiting trail.
While accepting his new role at Minnesota might look like a step back in title, Pomeday says his biggest drive is finding great people to surround himself with -- and he comes off very genuine when he talks about his excitement in joining the Gophers.
But first things first. After Pomeday spent ten days in his new role, he headed back to Corvallis, Ore. and his pregnant wife, Heidi. The couple's second child, another girl, three years younger than little Everly, is expected any day now.
"I'm surrounded by girls!" Pomeday said. "We have all the princess stuff, so we're prepared."
Soon, Pomeday and the rest of the basketball staff will be convening again in Dinkytown for the buildup to fall practices. In the meantime, I talked to Pomeday about his experience, the Big Ten and what's ahead for him.
How well did you know Pitino before taking this job?
A little bit. We had met each other on the recruiting circuit, just sort of rubbing elbows with coaches as you go. I had the chance to meet him one or two times, just brief conversations, saying hello. So I think he had an idea when my name was brought up that he knew who I was a little bit. But it's been a great process getting to know him more.
When did he call about hiring you?
I think it was the early July period. It happened fast. I was in a situation where I was looking for an opportunity and I just thought the opportunity with coach Pitino -- great style of play, very energetic fanbase, I'm very familiar with Minnesota basketball playing in the Big Ten and I've always thought it's going to be a great spot. So an opportunity to work with him and work with the staff was something that I really wanted to jump at.
Sounds like it wasn't a very hard decision for you.
I didn't think it was a hard decision at all. I thought it made a lot of sense. You can't worry about positions. The people you work with are what's important, and the program that you're trying to build and who you surround yourself with. I've known [Young and Johnson] for a while and that also made the opportunity a no-brainer.
What did you take away from your six years at Oregon State?
Six years you can really learn what's coming around the bend. I think with the experience I've had at Oregon State and even as a small college head coach, I think I've been afforded the opportunity to sort of see what could be coming around the corner and preparing for it. And also, I know what the asst coaches are going through, so I should be able to help take some things off their plate and fill in the holes and fill in any gaps that need to be filled in order to help coach Pitino run the program as best as he can.
What will your main duties be with Minnesota?
It's really all-encompassing. Josh Adel is very experienced in the operations standpoint, so I'm really leaning on him a lot. He has a good base knowledge of how things run at the university. I think I really need to be a point person for a lot of the internal/ external communications through the program and really help take a lot of things off coach Pitino's plate and the assistant coaches plates whether it's involving student athletes or involving the community or the athletic department and just sort of allow them to operate and take care of the more important pieces that they need to take care of.
Will you be working with Josh a lot?
I have a feeling he and I are going to be working together a ton and I'm looking forward to it. He's worked with some fantastic coaches and I have some good experience and I think together we can really grow.
How involved with scheduling will you be?
Yeah, I think scheduling the practices, scheduling workouts, game scheduling. A lot of that stuff is something that I'll be working hand-in-hand with Josh as well as well as coach Pitino. Game scheduling is a lot of work but in the end the coaches are making the decisions and we're really trying to just set the table up for them to be able to make the decisions they're most comfortable with.
You played in the Big Ten at Northwestern. Is getting back in a coaching role something you've thought a lot about?
I'm so excited to be back in the Big Ten. I was raised in Wisconsin, wife is from Philly, being back in the Midwest, we have a ton of friends. And it's exciting not only to be back in the Midwest but to be competing in the best conference in the country is phenomenal.
I'm really excited to get back in the Barn and play a game and just get back to all the other venues. I'm trying to think which other coaches are still around I think [Tom] Izzo [at Michigan State] is the only one. Coach Izzo is still there. It's going to be fun to get back there.
What do you remember about playing in the Barn?
The fans feeling like they're right on top of you. It's definitely a different feel from any other arena in the conference just because of the way the court is and the place is packed and I just remember having some great games there.
Have you kept up with the Big Ten since then?
Yep, it's easy to follow. Following Minnesota, a lot of the other teams. At Oregon State, we tended to recruit the Midwest quite a bit so we were recruiting against a lot of those teams, so I've paid attention. The Big Ten has just been great, it's been a great conference, top to bottom.
You majored in communications for your bachelor's degree. Are you interested in getting involved with that side of things again after your coaching career is done?
If I can be involved in any sort of radio, television or film after my coaching career, that would be fantastic. I was a color commentator for Northwestern basketball for WGN for four years and that was a lot of fun. I've always enjoyed the film and radio side of things with athletics and I think anybody that gets to do that is really lucky and is obviously very knowledgeable. In my coaching career, I've always pictured my end game is being a type of athletic direction. That's always been the end game for me but if ESPN wants to change that, that would be great.
What was that experience -- working as a color commentator -- like for you?
You got to see basketball from the other side. I saw Big Ten basketball as a player, and then I got to see it as a color commentator and at that time I was also coaching. Head coach at Calumet College, working Lake Forest Academy. So I was still in coaching, but getting to see the coaching from the sidelines and be right on the court during the games was a lot of fun. You got to watch teams prepare, you went on road trips with them. It wasn't a whole lot different from what I experienced as a player but it was neat to see it on the other side.
What are you most excited about in coming to Minnesota?
Just the opportunity to work with coach Pitino and the staff. Who you work with is just so important in your career an having the opportunity to keep building Minnesota basketball into what coach Pitino envisions for the future is exciting. I'm really excited about it. The feedback I got when it finally became public was incredible and people in the college basketball business were very supportive in the press in a way which was really humbling for me. I'm really thankful to coach Pitino and all the administration at Minnesota and the assistant coaches as well.
You mentioned Pitino's style of play earlier. Is that something that's particularly attractive to you?
He coaches an aggressive style of defense, speeds up the ball, create turnovers, get deflections. It's an energy-effort type of game and that's something that just naturally as a coach, something that I am attracted to.
Have you been around the players much yet?
I spent 10 days there with the guys before they finished up summer school. It's a great group of guys. You can tell their chemistry is really, really good. They're strong. They're much faster than I remember. Mo Walker was a kid at Oregon State that we had looked at for a while and he's a third of himself when he was at Mother Teresa [Catholic secondary school] in Canada. But that's a snapshot of what coach Pitino wants from all of his guys. He wants them to be lean, strong and fast. And that's the style of ball that they're going to play -- that we're going to play. It's 'we' -- it's really exciting to say 'we.'