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Winding road leads Ronan native Nate Harris back home as assistant coach with Montana Lady Griz

Nate Harris
Posted at 5:41 PM, Jun 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-29 19:41:15-04

MISSOULA — New Montana Lady Griz coach Brian Holsinger added plenty of Montana flair with the completion of his first coaching staff at UM.

One of those hires is Ronan native Nate Harris who returns to the Treasure State after spending the previous two years as the head coach of the women's basketball team at Angelo State down in San Angelo, Texas. Harris joins Joslyn Tinkle as the newest hires on Holsinger's staff as well as Jordan Sullivan who has been a full-time assistant at UM since 2017.

With that hire, Harris comes back to Montana with experience coaching all over the state. After playing high school basketball at Ronan, Harris went on to play college basketball at Montana Tech and graduated in 2007 before getting his first coaching job at Tech where he worked with the men's team.

From there, Harris was an assistant on the men's staff at Fresno Pacific in California for one season in 2010-11 before returning to Montana where he coached at Montana State Billings for three seasons with the women's team. After that, he spent four seasons on Tricia Binford's staff at Montana State before heading to Angelo State for his first head coaching job in 2019-20. Angelo State competes at the NCAA Division II level.

For Harris, the move back to Missoula was rooted in both opportunity and being close to family again.

"This is home, it’s always been home for me and my wife, me being from Ronan, my wife (Elise) from Missoula," Harris said. "Our oldest was born in Missoula so just the chance to get back here I always joke that no matter where we coached, if we weren’t there and weren’t working, we were here and so now to be able to combine that and constantly be here and be working, it’s just a special experience."

Harris joins the staff with a familiarity of the Big Sky Conference thanks to his time with Binford and Montana State as well as his knowledge of the state, recruiting in-state talent and what fans at UM are looking for. In two of the four seasons Harris was on staff at MSU, the Bobcats won two conference regular-season titles and the conference tournament in 2016-17 to advance to the women's NCAA Tournament.

But his experience as a head coach could also pay dividends since Harris might know what Holsinger is going through as a head coach better than anyone on his staff.

"Once you’ve been through that everything slows down a little bit as an assistant and you’re able to focus in on some areas where you’re really good," Harris said. "As a head coach you have to have your hand in everything and got to manage everything so now as an assistant there’s some areas where you can really focus in and try to be elite in those areas rather than managing hundreds of different areas.

"You learn by doing and there's no way to understand what it's like to be a head coach until you're a head coach. To understand the daily grind and it never ends, you're never not thinking about how to win and how to make kids better and how to add value to their lives. You're never not thinking about that stuff. We have to find ways to make (Holsinger's) life easier and to add value to his program and to add value to the lives of the young ladies that we work with. We've got to find ways to do that consistently. That's really important."

Harris, who credited former Ronan and current Billings Central boys basketball coach Jim Stergar as an influential force and mentor behind him getting into coaching, said he enjoyed his time as a head coach, but when the opportunity to move closer to home at a school like UM opened, he couldn't say no.

Holsinger added that he's known Harris and his wife for years, dating back to his time as the head women's coach at Tech during his first head coaching gig.

"It goes back to trust and knowing these people and who they are and what they're about, what kind of dad and husband he is," Holsinger explained. "Those things matter to me. He helped the Bobcats become who they've been and I saw that from afar and what they did and how he coached and how he impacted that program. When you're coaching, you get to know a lot of different people, it's a small world. I knew him for a long time and how he handled himself and his talent as far as X's and O's. He's really good with people, he's friendly and laid back and he's a perfect addition."

Harris described himself as an "average" college player during his time at Montana Tech, with plenty of areas he feels like he could've improved. His goal now as a coach is to make sure his players don't leave Montana with any of those same regrets.

"My team would’ve been better if I would’ve been better at X, Y and Z. And so I just explain to girls, ‘Hey, I’m 37 and I have things that I regret and they still eat at me and it’s been 15 years since I put on a uniform,'" Harris said about his coaching philosophy. "And so you don’t want to have those, you need to maximize every chance you get because someday you too will be 37 and there might be something you wish you would’ve done a little differently and I don’t want that for anyone I coach."