Juniata athletics photo
After a national search, Juniata assistant coach Nick Hager has been selected as the new head men's basketball and men's tennis coach at Bethany, as announced Friday by the college's athletic director, Brian Rose.
Hager replaces Andrew Sachs, who left the position in June to become the head coach at Salisbury.
"We are thrilled to welcome Nick to Bethany as our next men's basketball and men's tennis head coach," said Rose. "Nick's experience at a strong program like Juniata and the direction he wants to take the program is what made him stand out from the over 100 applications we received. We believe Nick's plan will not only ensure our continued success on the court, where we've reached the postseason 11 consecutive seasons, but will also help develop our players into strong students in the classroom and leaders in the Bethany and surrounding communities."
Hager comes to Bethany for his first head coaching position after serving as an assistant coach with the Golden Eagles for the last five seasons. During that time, Juniata posted an overall record of 82-55 while earning back-to-back ECAC South Regional championships in 2012-13 and 2013-14. In the 2014 ECAC semifinals, Juniata came to Bethany, which was the top seed in the tournament, and knocked off the Bison before defeating Hood in the championship game.
The high water mark for Juniata during Hager's tenure came in the 2012-13 season, as he helped lead the Golden Eagles to a 21-9 record, which included a 9-5 mark in the Landmark Conference, a league which features perennial Top 25 contenders Catholic University and Scranton. In the previous season, Hager helped the team to 19 wins and was a member of the staff that was named the Landmark's Coaching Staff of the Year.
During his five seasons, Hager helped develop six All-Landmark Conference selections, as well as two CoSIDA Academic All-District honorees.
"I would like to thank the staff at Juniata, and especially Greg (Curley) for opening the door for me to gain some valuable experience over the last five seasons," commented Hager, who will be the 26th head coach in Bethany basketball history. "Having had the chance to play for Greg and then getting to see him as a peer and mentor during the start of my coaching career, I couldn't be more grateful for what both he and the institution as a whole afforded me."
Prior to his five years as a coach at Juniata, Hager spent two seasons at Auburn where he served as a graduate assistant in the Tigers' Compliance office. In 2009, he graduated from Auburn with a Master's of Education in Administration in Higher Education and Sports Management. Hager received his Bachelor of Arts from Juniata in 2007, where he served as a four-year letterwinner, three-year starter and two-year captain of the Golden Eagles basketball team. A defensive-minded presence, Hager still ranks third on the Eagle's all-time list in career-steals (144). That defense-first mentality comes out in Hager when asked what to expect from the Bison on the court.
"Having spent nine years at Juniata, the biggest thing that I learned was that you play with toughness on both ends of the floor," remarked Hager. "Execution is not just about physical play, but also about mental toughness.
"In my first year as head coach, I will look to instill a level of pride and passion into our team work ethic. We will go hard for 40 minutes in every contest, especially on the defensive side of the floor."
Nick becomes the second Hager family member to patrol the sidelines for the Bison, as his brother Nate served as an assistant coach for two seasons. Under head coach Rob Clune, Nate helped lead the Bison to a 21-8 record in the 2001-02 season. That year, the Bison captured the Presidents' Athletic Conference Championship and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Following his tenure at Bethany, Nate also became a college head coach, as he just recently finished his eighth season as the head coach of Regis.
Hager is also part of the second generation of basketball coaches from the Hager family, as his father Bill had a legendary career in Northwestern, Pa. Most notably, Hager spent 14 years as the head boys coach at Franklin High School, where he led the Knights to five District 10 titles and a PIAA Class AAA state championship in 2001. Overall in more than 35 years of coaching, Hager collected 672 victories.
"I have been very fortunate in my formative years to not only have been surrounded by great coaches, but great teachers of the game," said Hager. "I remember following my dad to all of his practices and games and him teaching me the ins and outs of what it means to be a good coach, without me even knowing it.
"I've always been extremely close with Nate, and he has always been a great brother and mentor to me in both my personal and professional lives. It is going to take me a while to compare to the resumes of the rest of my family, but I am really excited to get to add my name to the list."
"The coaching bloodlines that Nick comes from are very impressive," said Rose. "As a young assistant, his brother Nate was a big part of the success of the 2001-02 team that is still the last PAC program to win an NCAA Tournament game. And his father Bill is widely regarded as one of the top high school coaches in the state of Pennsylvania.
"Nick has been around the game his whole life. With those family experiences to draw from, as well as having connections with some outstanding Division III coaches like Greg Curley at Juniata and others, we know that Nick is going to continue to build on the outstanding tradition that Bethany basketball has established."
The team that Hager will be inheriting is poised to continue that tradition of high-caliber basketball that the Bison have produced. Bethany has won a PAC-record 14 conference championships, earned eight trips to the NCAA Tournament, and appeared in the ECAC tournament on five separate occasions. Overall, the program has made an unprecedented 11 consecutive postseason appearances, a pedigree of college basketball which is not lost on Hager:
"One of the things I am most looking forward to is becoming a part of the great tradition that is Bethany basketball," remarked Hager of the opportunity. "I have had a chance to meet a few alumni from the team and I look forward to getting the chance to meet with more of the men that left such an imprint on the institution and the program as a whole. You can be sure that my staff and I will work tirelessly to make sure that the tradition of greatness continues and that we put a product on the court that all of our alumni can be proud of."
Last season, the Bison finished the year 18-11 and earned a berth into the ECAC South Regional tournament, where they upended top-seeded Penn State-Behrend 53-51, to earn hosting rights for the ECAC semifinals for the second consecutive season. As of now, that team is set to return a total of nine letterwinners, including four starters.
"Having had the opportunity to see some of our returners play, both on film and first hand, I can say that I feel very fortunate coming to a program where the cupboards are full of some very talented athletes," said Hager. "This team is full of dedicated players that will leave everything on the floor. I am looking forward to building relationships with returning players and the incoming class, alike."
"I would like to thank Brian Rose and the entire search committee for the opportunity that has been given to me," said Hager. "In just one visit to the campus, I felt the family atmosphere that the college has to offer. There seems to be a great relationship throughout the campus community, and I'm looking forward to being able to enhance the Bethany name both on and off the court."