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Nate Harris returns to home state, joins Montana Lady Griz staff

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Posted at 5:41 PM, Apr 29, 2021

(Editor's note: University of Montana media release)

MISSOULA -- He was born in Sidney, raised in Ronan. He graduated from Montana Tech, got his coaching start with the Orediggers and later was an assistant at MSU Billings and Montana State.

After three years living in west-central Texas, the last two as the head coach at NCAA Division II Angelo State, Nate Harris, his wife and four daughters are returning home.

Harris is the second assistant hired this week by new Montana women’s basketball coach Brian Holsinger.

“If I can sum it up in one word, I’d say family,” says Harris of his motivation to return. “My wife was born and raised in Missoula. My oldest daughter was born there. I grew up in Ronan.

“And then it’s the opportunity to work with Brian. He’s an absolute stud. He’s really, really good. I’m excited to help him and learn from him. So it’s a combination of those two things.”

Holsinger, who was hired this month after five seasons at Oregon State, made keeping Jordan Sullivan on staff his first move earlier this week.

Holsinger has a long history with Harris. When Holsinger was in his first job as a head coach, at Montana Tech from 2005-07, Harris was in his final two seasons playing on the men’s team.

“I’ve kind of watched from afar as he’s done some great things,” said Holsinger. “I respect him as a person first. He’s a great dad to his four girls. I love his character.

“Our coaching philosophies are really aligned as well, as far as really impacting kids. You’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with. Now I have two great people. I think they’re both fantastic.”

Harris was a mathematics major at Montana Tech but it wasn’t his passion. He learned shortly after his playing days were done what was: basketball and coaching.

He was a volunteer coach for the men’s team at Montana Tech in 2007-08, paying the bills that season by working at a juvenile correctional facility up the road in Galen.

He was a full-time assistant at Montana Tech the next two years, then spent the 2010-11 season as an assistant with the men’s team at Fresno Pacific.

Harris returned to Montana and got his start in the women’s game when he joined Kevin Woodin’s staff at MSU Billings prior to the 2011-12 season.

By the third year the Yellowjackets were winning 25 games and advancing to the NCAA Division II West Region championship game, that division’s equivalent of the Sweet 16.

He broke into Division I basketball when he was hired at Montana State by Tricia Binford. His arrival in Bozeman matched the start of MSU’s rise to becoming one of the Big Sky Conference’s top programs.

The Bobcats won the Big Sky regular-season title in 2015-16, in Harris’s second year at the school, their first championship since 2002-03. That season ended with a trip to the WNIT.

In 2016-17, Montana State shared the Big Sky regular-season title with North Dakota and went on to win the tournament in Reno and make its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1992-93.

Montana State went 77-47 in four years with Harris on staff, the last two as associate head coach.

“I’m very close with Coach Bin and have a lot of respect for her and everything they do. They’ve built a great program,” said Harris, who was 5-3 against the Lady Griz in his four years in Bozeman.

Montana State has won 11 of the last 13 matchups against Montana after the Lady Griz at one time owned a 77-22 lead in the rivalry.

In his final year at Montana State, in 2017-18, Harris and the Bobcats were in Hawaii for the Oregon State Maui Classic.

With an eye on becoming a head coach, he left Bozeman after the 2017-18 season and joined Renae Shippy’s staff at Angelo State in San Angelo, Texas, as an assistant.

Wife Elise and daughters Henley, Harper and Hollyn followed. Hayden was born in Texas. “(Elise) is a saint first, a schoolteacher second, in that order for following me all over.”

After one season as an assistant to Shippy, Harris moved up to the head coach position.

His first team, in 2019-20, was sitting on 18 wins and eyeing a chance to face defending national champion Lubbock Christian in the South Central Regional when COVID shut the tournament down.

Harris brings two years of head coaching experience to his new position.

Harris will be back in Montana this weekend, in the office first thing next week. He’s got work to do.

“I’m so thankful for the opportunity to coach at the University of Montana,” he said. “It’s one of the best women’s basketball programs anywhere.

“It’s an honor to join a program with that kind of tradition, with that kind of fan base and all the good things that have been built over the years. I think I have an understanding of what it takes to be really good at this level. I’m excited to help Brian and work with Jordan to continue the proud tradition of Lady Griz basketball.”