Basketball coaches talk about the challenge of moving over one seat when they rise to head coach. Chad Gibney, in his first job, moved over and then back. Over and back. Every game for two months.
Gibney, a former Wichita State men’s basketball manager and graduate assistant, took on one of college basketball’s unique challenges at Western Nebraska Community College. He started his first full-time job as a men’s assistant and ended as the women’s head coach and men’s assistant.
“You have to keep your energy level high,” he said. “You’re going five or six hours straight on the practice floor every day.”
The people who knew Gibney, 25, during his six seasons at Wichita State aren’t surprised he handled the double duty. At WSU, he rose through the ranks of managers to lead that group, always a reliable behind-the-scenes worker. If a Shocker wasn’t tracking on time for film sessions or the team bus, Gibney usually knew how to get him there.
Never miss a local story.
He made the same impression at Western Nebraska.
Western Nebraska led Lamar (Colo.) by two points in an early January men’s basketball game. Gibney suggested a switch to zone defense to coach Cory Fehringer to defend a baseline inbounds play in the final seconds.
“We’re a man-to-man team,” Fehringer said. “That really gave us an edge to win the possession. We contest the three. Get the rebound. Game over.”
Fehringer gives that example to illustrate why assistant coach Gibney was the right person to work with both teams. Fehringer, also in his first season, trusted Gibney to orchestrate his defense because of his maturity and eye for strategy.
“Chad Gibney has a great head on his shoulders,” Fehringer said. “He doesn't get rattled. He makes intelligent decisions.”
Gibney, from Lincoln, Neb., started 2016-17 as Fehringer’s assistant at the school in Scottsbluff. In January, Gibney added the job as interim head women’s coach after the resignation of Dave Harnish in early January.
He ran women’s practices and then helped with the men. He planned his own practices and worked with Fehringer on the next session. He coached the first game of the Western Nebraska doubleheaders as the lead voice and 30 minutes later sat next to Fehringer and handled defensive matchups for the men.
In junior college, there is no Chad Gibney manager/grad assistant to organize road trips, do laundry and pack equipment. Chad Gibney, women’s coach and assistant men’s coach, made hotel reservations, ordered pizza and carried bags. The school recruited an assistant coach from the faculty to help with the women’s team.
When the athletic director first approached Gibney, he hesitated. He wanted to do a good job as the men’s assistant. He didn’t see himself as a women’s coach. Then Gibney thought about the crash course in coaching that awaited.
“The opportunity to be a head coach and run your own practices, learning as you go, was really exciting,” Gibney said.
Gibney took over a talented women’s team and got the most out the situation. The Cougars went 17-2 in his time as coach and went to the NJCAA Tournament before finishing 28-5.
“He made it look so easy,” Fehringer said. “I don’t think anybody recognizes the challenge he faced because of how well he did.”
He catches himself saying something that he knows came from the mouth of WSU coach Gregg Marshall. His team worked ball-handling drills with tennis balls, a favorite of former Shocker assistant Greg Heiar. The Cougars run 37 Virginia Option (a play often used for Cleanthony Early’s three-point shots), 45 Kansas (a high-low play) and run 95 press, all borrowed from WSU.
“I learned from the best coaches in the country,” Gibney said.
Fehringer knew the school made the right choice when he started watching Gibney’s women’s practices.
“You started seeing him run his own drills and we stole some ideas,” he said.
Gibney appreciates the women’s game more now and considers it a possible career. He’s remaining as Western Nebraska’s women’s coach, no longer interim.
“As far as the fundamentals, what you want them to do and going out and being there because they love it, it’s great,” he said. “It's different, but it's still basketball.”
Home for the summer — Most of Wichita State’s pitchers will spend the summer in Wichita instead of fanning out over the country to play.
Coach Todd Butler and pitching coach Mike Steele want them to rest their arms and work on the rest of their bodies.
“It’s a lot of strength training, explosive training,” reliever Ben Hecht said. “Pretty much getting in better shape all around, whether it be through physical conditioning, mental conditioning, running and lifting.”
The Shockers need to improve their offense — which totaled 10 runs in three Missouri Valley Conference Tournament games — and it’s got a base of returning talent to do so. The pitching staff loses its lone reliable starter, senior All-MVC pick Zach Lewis. The bullpen will miss senior lefty Reagan Biechler, who led the Shockers with 35 appearances and a 2.84 ERA.
Trying to predict Wichita State’s weekend rotation is difficult. Codi Heuer and Robby Evans worked their way into the rotation late in the season. Both struggled in the tournament. Freshmen Tommy Barnhouse and Keylan Killgore both started eight games and neither pitched effectively as weekend starters.
“We’re trying to take care of our pitching staff,” Butler said. “Instead of sending them out to throw all summer, we’re trying to get them in the weight room and keep them in a throwing program all summer. Take care of them so we don’t have injuries from summer ball and going out and pitching too much.”
More with the Bears — Missouri State, for both geographic and competitive reasons, is the MVC school most likely to continue on Shocker schedules.
Bears baseball coach Keith Guttin told reporters the teams will play mid-week games in the future, starting in 2019. The volleyball teams are also expected to meet, most likely swapping tournament visits.
▪ While the MVC hasn’t made it official, people around the conference expect Dallas Baptist to hold the 2018 baseball tournament.
The move is seen as a lure to keep Dallas Baptist happy in the MVC. With WSU gone, it is possible the school may consider more geographically suitable conferences to hold its baseball program. All other DBU sports are in NCAA Division II.
The Patriots, with WSU pushing for its membership to strengthen baseball in the MVC, joined in 2014 and have not finished lower than third. It won the MVC regular-season title in 2016.