Reusse: SW Minnesota State coach toughs it out on the court and off

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 24, 2013 - 12:25 AM

Brad Bigler, who has endured more than his fair share of tragedy of late, had his team hang tough in the rugged NSIC.

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Brad Bigler, Southwest Minnesota State University men's basketball coach.

Photo: Nicola Losik, Star Tribune

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This is Tim Miles' first season coaching the Nebraska men's basketball team. Recently, he had a speaking appearance in Omaha and was on the road back to Lincoln when he started a cellphone conversation with Brad Bigler.

"There were some things Brad's team was doing defensively that I wanted to ask him about,'' Miles said. "We got into the conversation and I missed Lincoln. It's not easy to miss Lincoln -- with eight exits -- in Nebraska, but I blew by it by about 20 miles.''

Miles' interest in breaking down defense with Bigler was intriguing for a few reasons: Tim is coaching in the Big Ten and Brad in Division II at Southwest Minnesota State. Tim was the Southwest coach from 1997 to 2001, and Brad was his point guard much of that time.

So, this was the mentor kicking around defensive concepts with the protégé.

"He's the son of a coach,'' Miles said. "His dad, Mark, is one of those solid-as-a-rock guys. When Brad talks about basketball, he traces everything back to his father.''

Mark Bigler coached his son at Fort Madison, a small town in southeastern Iowa. He is now the coach at Davenport West, one of the state's large schools.

Brad was recruited to Southwest State by Perry Ford. Before he got to Marshall, Minn., Ford left for Augustana (S.D.) and Miles was hired from Mayville (N.D.) State as his replacement.

"Brad was 5-foot-10 and maybe 140 pounds, but he played with as much resolve as anyone,'' Miles said. "What's the saying? 'Cool water runs deep.' That was him. No matter what situation we put in him, he always made plays.

"He had amazing strength as a person. And we've seen that through these tragedies.''

The tragedies have been chronicled nationally and regionally:

In July 2011, Brad, his mother, Diane Bigler-Hagenow, and three companions were kayaking on Hawk Creek near the Minnesota River. Diane was the enthusiastic kayaker, but the group ran into trouble with a rapids and she drowned.

On July 28, 2012, Brad's wife, Heather, was driving to the family cabin in Starbuck, with Brad in the passenger's seat, with their 5-month-old son, Drake, and Heather's mom in the back. The vehicle was smashed by a drunk driver and Drake died.

"I know it's tough every day for them, but not many of us could handle things like this the way Brad and his family have done," Miles said. "When you mention resiliency, Brad talks about what type of person his mother was, about what he still takes from his father, and now from Heather.''

Miles was on the phone late Saturday afternoon, after his Nebraska team had upset Iowa 64-60 in Lincoln. The fact a Big Ten coach would return a message after a big victory to talk about a former player and now a D-II coach ... that says something about these men.

Bigler and his Mustangs were in St. Paul playing Concordia on Friday night. Southwest held on for a 71-69 victory. The Mustangs then lost the regular-season finale Saturday night in Mankato, falling 85-75 to Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference regular-season champion Minnesota State.

"The ratings came out and we were ninth in the region ... but we're fifth in the South Division,'' Bigler said. "This conference is so tough.''

The Mustangs finished with 16 assists against Concordia -- a tick above the season average. Assists are a go-to statistic for Bigler.

"We take pride in setting up teammates,'' he said. "If we have an offensive philosophy, that's it: move the ball, set up your teammates.''

Miles coached Southwest State to its best season, in 2000-01 -- earning a trip to the Division II Elite Eight in Bakersfield, Calif. Bigler was a point guard. Miles left for North Dakota State and Greg Stemen took over as the coach.

Bigler was in his sixth year as an assistant in August 2009, when Stemen told his staff in confidence that he was about to take a job in business.

"I didn't even tell Heather,'' Bigler said. "She was pregnant and we were moving into a new home. I didn't want to give her more to worry about.''

On Sept. 30, 2009, Stemen resigned and Bigler became the interim coach. He was 30 ... and secured the job full-time when the Mustangs reached the 2010 NSIC title game.

Thirty years old seems young for a Division II job?

"Maybe, but Brad was one of those guys,'' Miles said. "You knew he was going to be a coach, and he'd be good at it right away.''

Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on 1500-AM. • preusse@startribune.com

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