A New Era for Nickell

Head Basketball Coach Officially Steps Down From Coaching


Photo courtesy of Matt Nickell

Coach Nickell at a Bruin Basketball game

Maggie Phelps, Writer, Editor-in-Chief

A locker room. Stepping onto the court. Feeling the screech of the buzzer. The announcer. The swoosh. The screams. The claps. The chants. These are all moments that Matt Nickell is walking away from as he steps down from his position as the Bruin Basketball Head Coach. 

“In 2003 I started coaching freshmen, and then ever since then I’ve been on staff with Coach Wright and then took over as the head coach eight years ago, and that’s when I came here to teach,” Nickell said. 

Nickell had a long and profound basketball career. He started playing at Central Hardin as a sophomore in 1994, continued for the following three years, and finished his education at the University of Kentucky. 

Nickell enjoyed leading the basketball program all the way down to the elementary school level when the youth league was created.

“We started the little league and just kind of being around and reffing those games every Saturday morning and just being around and seeing our culture trying to be built from the top down and just being the leader of the program is something that I’m going to miss.”

Despite describing himself as only a decent player, “I felt like I knew what the coach wanted us to do on the floor. I kinda knew where guys were supposed to be so I used that skill to get on the floor,” Nickell said. 

Coach Billy Ray Reynolds came to Central Hardin during Nickell’s junior year, and Nickell credits a portion of his desire to coach to him. He noted that he was a hard and difficult coach but he noticed that he also brought out the best in not only him, but also his teammates. 

“I’m kinda an observer, I kinda sit back and just watch so I would just take bits and pieces from the people that I worked with and worked for,” Nickell said. “Obviously as I got older I started to yell a lot less, tried to do more coaching then yelling, sometimes it doesn’t really look like that, but I try.”

Nickell brought his career full circle when he returned to Central Hardin and now steps down from coaching his alma mater; however, he will always feel a sense of pride due to guiding his home team. 

“I grew up about five minutes from here. I’ve been around here for, I guess it’s going on thirty years. It’s home and I’m just proud to have led it for a little bit of the time,” Nickell said. 

Nickell is incredibly fond when he looks back on previous players and their accomplishments since departing from basketball. One experience in particular that is memorable to him is his relationship with Andre Miller. 

Nickell knew Miller from when he joined the youth league as a fourth grader, “Now he’s a father, he’s married, he’s got kids, he’s doing well for himself, so the most satisfaction I get is seeing those guys who have left here be productive out in the community.” 

Nickell felt what it was like to grow up with a team and wanted to build that sense of community on the court with his players. That community of teammates bonded everyone together with an immaculate work ethic, especially during this last season. Nickell recognized the challenges that this season presented and how his crew persevered. 

“A lot of teams can just coast to the regions but it’s just never gonna happen in this district with the teams that we have to play,” Nickell said. “This year was a little different because we had those expectations and in my book I feel like I didn’t meet them, that really got to me.”

Regardless of the pressure of this season, the team was just as strong as ever.

 “I feel like we gave our best effort and sometimes you don’t come out on top but if you give your best effort, I feel like you can be proud of that. I was always proud of how we represented,” Nickell said. 

The future of Bruin basketball is now in the hands of newly hired head coach Tavon Johnson, still Nickell’s work does not go unnoticed. He has worked tirelessly to build a team of culture and commitment and is walking away as a proud coach with a capsule of memories underneath him, some making it bittersweet to walk away. 

“Watching guys get better as the year progresses is something I’ll always miss,” Nickell said. “Just being around the coaches every day and being around our players every day is going to be something that is hard to replace.”

As Nickell’s final season came to a close, he reflected on his inspiration to step down and what changes will come to his life post-coaching. 

“I’ve got to find some way to compete now and also some way to get that comradery thing again with people so that’s something we’ll figure out,” Nickell said.

Nickell attributes his family to the reason to make this change. Some of his most cherished memories he has shared with his family.

“As an assistant coach, I have a picture from when we won the district with Reece (his daughter),” Nickell said. “She was three, and we’re climbing the ladder to cut the net. That’s always something I’m going to remember forever.”

He has received continued support from his family throughout his career and now feels the opportunity to return the kindness to them. He noted that his daughters have been in the gym with him for as long as he can remember and wants to be there for them as they begin to make their own experiences. 

“I feel like now it’s time for me to support them like they’ve done for me. That was the main reason, my wife included,” Nickell said.

The court will greatly miss the impression Nickell made in his two decade career; however, there is great support as he springs into the new chapter of his life.