Graduation Rates, Student Growth Highlight Tenure
During his collegiate playing days, and later as a graduate student, Northwest College men’s basketball coach Brian Erickson never really considered a career in coaching.
“I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, to be honest,” Erickson said. “I knew that I always wanted to be around athletics in some way. I got my degree in business from Montana State University- Northern, and I started working toward my Master’s in sports management, which kind of pushed me toward the athletic world.”
Thinking a career in athletic administration might be in his future, Erickson and his family moved to Powell so he could finish his degree. He completed a mentorship for the United States Sports Academy by working as an assistant coach at NWC, setting him on a different course for his future.
“I coached that first year and fell in love with it,” he said. “I stuck with it, and have been loving it ever since.”
After three seasons as an assistant, Erickson was offered the job as head coach before the 2012- 2013 season. Now in his fifth season at the helm, Erickson has guided the Trappers to a 106-54 record, including a Region IX Championship in 2014-2015, the team’s first in 46 years. Win No. 100 came at home against Dawson Community College Jan. 7.
“My time as head coach has really been great,” Erickson said. “Each day is a learning experience, I’ve learned the ups and the downs. The highs aren’t as high as they are, and the lows aren’t as low. Learning to lose and learning to win is pretty important, because there’s plenty of both. Thankfully, there’s been a little bit more winning.”
Erickson grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he attended Granger High School, according to his bio on the NWC website. He was a 5A All-State selection as a senior, and much like the players he coaches, he chose the junior college route to begin his collegiate career. He played two seasons at Eastern Wyoming, winning back-to-back Region IX championships; he played his final two seasons at Montana State University-Northern.
As the 2016-2017 Trappers wrap up their regular season this week, Erickson took a moment to reflect on his time in Powell.
“It’s been a great experience being at Northwest,” he said. “The community, just the people you get to meet. The people of Powell are just so supportive of athletics as a whole, not just men’s basketball. Being able to see the successes of the guys that come through here, that’s really what drives me.”
Asked what he’s most proud of during his tenure as a coach, Erickson’s answer might surprise you.
“I think the thing I take the most pride in is that we’ve graduated 90 percent of our guys,” he said. “Education is the biggest reason for them to come here. And 26 of the 27 players I’ve coached have moved on to a four-year school. Some of them didn’t go on to play, but moved on to continue their education. Those are the things that are most meaningful to me.”
That’s not to say the 2014-2015 season wasn’t a highlight. The Trappers posted their second-best record in school history at 31-5, and hosted the Region IX Tournament, a first for the school. The team made it to the quarterfinals of the national tournament (losing a two-point heartbreaker to eventual champion Northwest Florida State College), and featured the NJCAA Player of the Year in Chris Boucher.
“That entire season was an unbelievable experience,” Erickson said. “Seeing that team grow and to accomplish what they did was amazing.”
Fielding a competitive team in an age of budget cuts is always a challenge for a two-year program, and NWC is no exception. But it’s a challenge that Erickson enjoys.
“I feel like we do more with less every year,” he explained. “Competing against teams with a lot more scholarship money or travel money, we’ve recruited well enough that we beat teams that have a lot more resources.”
Coaching, especially at the collegiate level, can be a very fluid vocation, with plenty of opportunities for successful coaches to move on to the next level. Would Erickson ever consider a position at a larger school?
“I’ve enjoyed my time at Northwest; I absolutely love it here,” he said. “My kids love Powell, I love Powell. Some of that would depend on what the future holds for Northwest athletics. We’re in kind of a transition with the budget and everything else that’s going on, but I like where I’m at.”