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SOU’s McDermott retires after 26 years

Program’s all-time leader in victories finishes with a record of 410-352

ASHLAND — Brian McDermott, the longest-tenured head coach ever at Southern Oregon University in any sport, has announced his retirement after leading the Raider men’s basketball team for 26 years.

McDermott had the ninth-most wins among all active NAIA coaches with 527 entering 2021-22. A cancer diagnosis days before the Raiders’ opener forced him off the sidelines for the duration of the season, and he made the end of an era official Monday in a meeting with the team.

“Thirty-six years as a head coach and six as an assistant in college basketball is probably enough for any sane man. Thank you to (the late former SOU athletic director) Monty Cartwright for hiring me and all the other athletic directors for keeping me. Coaching is more than a full-time gig and can only be done with the most supportive of families, which I have had for the entire run. It is now time to share more love with that supportive family.”

The Iowa native took over at SOU in 1996-97 on the heels of seven straight losing seasons, and within three years he led the Raiders to their first Cascade Conference championship and their first national tournament since 1968.

McDermott, the team’s all-time leader in wins and a four-time conference or district coach of the year, wrapped at SOU with a record of 410-352 and seven of the program’s nine all-time national tournament appearances. Over his final 10 seasons — including the abbreviated spring 2021 campaign that proved to be his last — the Raiders went 204-98.

“Coach Mac has been the enduring center of Raider Athletics for over a quarter century,” SOU Director of Athletics Matt Sayre said. “His legacy of wins and program success are matched by his presence as a senior leader of the department. He was always steadfast in his sensible advocacy of SOU within the Cascade Conference and NAIA, and of our athletic department’s relevance to the success of SOU. He is a treasured friend, mentor and colleague to so many here, and to his former student-athletes. We thank him for all he gave us. We wish him a rich and rewarding retirement.”

Before coming to Ashland, McDermott spent 10 seasons as the head coach at Dakota State University (S.D.). He guided the Trojans to their first winning season in 23 years in 1990, and two years later he took them to the NAIA Division II Final Four.

A 10-year playoff drought for the Raiders preceded McDermott’s arrival. He led them to the postseason 18 times, a stretch highlighted by the program’s only two national quarterfinal appearances.

The Raiders won their second CCC regular season and tournament titles in 2004-05, and the next year shot to No. 1 in the national poll. Starting in 2012-13 they qualified for the NAIA tournament in four of eight seasons, notching 20-plus wins in seven of those, and made their second national quarterfinal appearance in 2014-15. The 2015-16 squad, picked to place fifth in the CCC preseason poll, made a return trip to Branson, Mo.

SOU’s last full season with McDermott was 2019-20, which the Raiders finished at No. 8 in the NAIA coaches’ poll when the national tournament was canceled a day after they advanced to the Round of 16.

The Raiders boasted one NAIA All-American before McDermott’s arrival, and he produced 12 of them. His squads ranked as high as first, second and fourth among all NAIA Division II men’s basketball teams in terms of grade-point average. They forged an identity based on unselfishness: from 2012-20, they ranked top-10 nationally in assists per game seven times and field-goal percentage five times.

“A few years ago when I started thinking about retirement, health issues were not a part of the equation (although after riding my bike across the country, some may have thought mental health issues should be a part of the equation),” McDermott said. “Since my health issues began I have been reminded on an almost daily basis about how lucky I’ve been to coach so long and have the opportunity to help hundreds of young men find their way in life. As Greg Popovich says, coaching is all about relationships. I am so lucky to count so many of the guys I have coached as great friends. Coaching, to me, has always been another avenue to teach. And if you’re with 10 to 15 young men every day and you’re not learning as well, you are missing the point. Thank you to all those players who taught me so much.”

McDermott was an assistant coach at his alma mater, the University of South Dakota, from 1980-85. As a player, McDermott led the Coyotes in assists from 1976-78, and established a national single-game assists record with 21 as a junior. He was a starter on the 1977 South Dakota all-star team that became the first squad from the U.S. in years to play the Cuban national team, and in 1978-79 he was voted the English Basketball Association MVP after averaging 30 points and 10 assists as the player/coach of the Leeds Larson Lions.

SOU will begin a search for McDermott’s replacement immediately. He’ll continue to oversee recruiting and workout activities this spring and retire officially on June 30.

Southern Oregon University coach Brian McDermott talks to players during an earlier game.