When former St. Francis College head men’s basketball coach Brian Nash decided that enough was enough two years ago, citing “burnout” and a desire to find out if there was “more to life than just basketball," he sought counsel from an unlikely source.
Nash, who was unable to snap the Terriers’ ongoing century-long NCAA Tournament drought during his five seasons at the Remsen Street school, found comfort and reassurance from then-LIU-Brooklyn coach Jim Ferry, his chief rival on the Downtown college hoops circuit.
And now, he’s actually working for him.
“We definitely talked [after I got out of business],” Nash told the Eagle last Thursday from his office at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, where he was hired as the lead assistant on Ferry’s new staff last month. “I went to a lot of his practices [at LIU] that year. Jim understood that when you’ve been [coaching] for so many years, you can burn out.”
It certainly wasn’t the first time Nash looked to Ferry, only two years his elder, for sage advice.
Unknown to most local hoops fans who enjoyed watching the two go head-to-head in the heated LIU-St. Francis “Battle for Brooklyn” rivalry from 2005-10, the coaches have actually been basketball brethren for more than two decades and counting.
Ferry was assigned to show Nash around the campus of Keane State College in New Hampshire, where the former Bishop Ford guard was being recruited, way back in the late 1980s.
In fact, the two became roommates at Keane for a couple of years before Ferry graduated and took a job as an assistant for the Owls, helping to develop Nash into one of his top players before the Brooklyn native graduated himself in 1992.
“Jimmy’s one of my best friends,” admitted Nash, who is the son of Bishop Ford President Raymond Nash and the brother of Peter Nash, best known as M.C. Pete Nice of the 1990s rap group Third Bass.
“It goes back to being college roommates, when we both decided to get into coaching right after college,” Nash recalled. “Our friendship has grown from there. When the opportunity popped up [to join Ferry's staff at Duquesne], it was something that you couldn’t turn down.”
The idea of Nash and Ferry working on the same staff may have seemed more than just a bit odd when the two were clashing twice a season during their Downtown coaching days.
Despite going 47-99 at the helm during his at-times frustrating tenure with the Terriers, Nash did manage to win four of 10 meetings from Ferry in the always-heated rivalry games.
That series ended with St. Francis posting a memorable 88-84 triple-overtime victory over the heavily favored Blackbirds at LIU’s Wellness Center in February 2010, marking the last time the two have coached against one another.
Though he relished the opportunity to participate in the battle for neighborhood bragging rights, Nash admitted it was emotionally draining to square off with Ferry.
“It wasn’t fun,” Nash said. “I think we both approached the games like we both were happy when it was over. It's an uncomfortable situation. You don’t look forward to those games. Being so close makes it even tougher.”
Until Nash grabs another head coaching position — something he revealed he’s still interested in — the two won’t have to worry about battling it out on the hardwood anytime soon.
“I think once you’ve been [a head coach] you understand,” Nash noted. “When you get your first job you learn a lot of things. We didn’t win as many games [at St. Francis] as we wanted to, but we were going in the right direction. You hunger for that. I’ve enjoyed my time being an assistant and I think I can be a resource [to Jim] having been in that [head coaching] chair. But I’m in no hurry.”
After leading LIU to its first NCAA Tournament berth in 14 years in 2011, Ferry repeated the feat this past March, giving the Blackbirds their first-ever back-to-back March Madness appearances.
Now, he’s been assigned the daunting task of guiding Duquesne through the Atlantic 10, a league that just accepted two-time NCAA Tournament finalist Butler this week.
The Dukes haven’t sniffed the NCAAs since 1977, giving Ferry and Nash a new challenge to tackle together, rather than as adversaries.
“That’s the plan,” Nash said. “We know we’re in a big-time basketball league and that’s obviously one of the big draws. We want to get to the NCAA Tournament here.”
Asked what ultimately led him back into coaching, Nash had a chuckle at his own expense.
“I guess I’m not smart enough to do anything else,” he said.