A timeout came early in the game, but Brad Bigler didn't need to say anything. He watched and listened as his players in the huddle discussed among themselves how to attack the defense.

"I'm just sitting there like, 'You've got it, you're right,' " Bigler recalled.

Bigler was named Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Coach of the Year this week after leading Southwest Minnesota State to one of the best regular seasons in program history.

The scene he witnessed during that timeout against Concordia (St. Paul) last week encapsulated all the joy Bigler feels for his team, which is 23-5 and ranked No. 24 nationally in Division II.

That Bigler and his family can find comfort and happiness again after enduring unspeakable heartache makes this season extra inspiring.

Bigler's mother drowned in a kayaking accident in 2011. A year later, a drunken driver killed Bigler's 5-month-old son, Drake, in a head-on crash that also left Brad with severe injuries.

ESPN told Bigler's story in a powerful documentary two years later. Bigler still receives well-wishes from around the country because of the documentary, which ESPN occasionally re-airs.

Bigler says his family is doing well. He and wife Heather have welcomed a daughter into the world since Drake's death. Their three kids are ages 9, 7 and 3. And last year, Gov. Mark Dayton signed Drake's Law, which calls for tougher penalties in fatal drunken driving cases.

"After tragedy, you have to find a new normal," Bigler said. "There is still a lot to live for. We have a beautiful family. We would be robbing them if we're going to live in a sense of bitterness and anger.

"It's amazing how anger can change you. We felt it very, very much. Anger can consume your life and it can change you. We made a great effort to not allow anger to change us as people."

Bigler found healing in speaking publicly about his son's death. He gives more than 20 speeches a year to high school students and business groups about the dangers of drinking and driving.

"As much as you can turn a tragic event into something positive, I think our family has been able to do that on a couple different levels," he said. "Whether it's Drake's Law or public speaking or interaction with other people going through tough times."

The community of Marshall, Minn., has embraced Bigler's family as its own. Bigler loves it there. He's been at SMSU since 1997 first as a player, then an assistant coach and now head coach for the past eight seasons.

College coaches often live nomadic lifestyles, jumping from one city to the next. Bigler never had that desire.

"This place means a lot to me and my family," he said. "This is home."

Seasons like this one reinforce that bond. SMSU won the NSIC's south division and is ranked No. 2 the Division II Central Region rankings. Bigler's team reflects values he holds dear as a coach.

The core players have been together for three years or longer. They took their lumps as young players, ending the past two seasons with losing records. They finished 13th in the conference last season.

Yet his players never lost faith in the process. They kept working to improve and sacrificed for each other. Three seniors accepted reserve roles this season, including two former starters, because those moves made the team stronger.

Bigler describes his team's unselfishness and perseverance over this three-year path as a "rewarding experience." The pride in his voice isn't hard to recognize.

"Even through adversity keep a positive attitude," he said.

He knows the power of that mind-set. Tragedy has changed him as a coach, too. It made him less prone to emotional highs or lows after games. He's better able to keep issues that arise in perspective.

Bigler would love to see this group of players make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. He wants nothing more than to bring joy to his community, his home, a place that lifted him up at a time of anguish.

"We had a lot of great people that stepped up and were there for us," he said. "In the moment, it's just chaos. You're just trying to live every hour, every minute. As time goes, you can heal."