Northern Michigan men’s basketball coach Dean Ellis has called it quits as head man of the program. Ellis stepped down Tuesday, April 6 after spending 30 years in the program – 24 as the head coach.
The retirement came down to a number of reasons for Ellis, with a current health issue contributing to the majority of the departure.
“It was, for me, an accumulation of a few things,” he said. “The location was a factor. I was tired of traveling for games and recruiting. We’ve struggled the last few years, and then I missed the last four games because of health reasons.”
Ellis retires from NMU with the most wins by a coach in the program’s history at a record of 369-303. He took the head coaching position during the start of the 1986-87 season, replacing previous coach Glenn Brown.
This past season, the NMU basketball team finished with an overall record of 11-15 and 8-14 mark in the GLIAC.
During his tenure as head coach, the Wildcats made 13 appearances in the GLIAC postseason tournament, including winning it during the 1999-2000 season. Ellis also coached four 20 win seasons for NMU.
Ellis said he will miss the position, but what he will miss most are the players and colleagues. Ellis said he has yet to have a chance to address the team regarding the news. Athletic director Ken Godfrey met with some players, according to Ellis.
Sophomore guard Raymont McElroy, the team’s leading returning scorer for next season, found out about the retirement through the grapevine.
“I found out through Facebook and the news,” McElroy said. “People were coming up to me asking if I heard the news. No one really told me.”
In 1993, Ellis became the head coach of the NMU men’s golf team, a position he will continue to hold.
“It is far less stressful walking the fairways as opposed to standing on the sidelines of the court,” Ellis said.
As for the current position, according to athletic director Godfrey, the process of finding a replacement began right away with a national search. Within the first few hours, Godfrey received multiple calls.
According to senior guard Chris Warner, there were no signs during the season that Ellis would not be coming back next season.
“I’ve been with Ellis for a while,” said Warner. “I kind of made assumptions about his health, but there were no signs he was leaving.”
Warner spent the likes of his entire collegiate basketball career being coached by Ellis and was thankful to have him as a coach.
“From the first day I was here, he showed confidence in me,” Warner said. “He showed trust and stayed loyal to me after my injury.”
For next year’s team, questions and concerns about the matter may be in mind. McElroy is curious about who the new coach may be.
“You don’t know who it’s going to be or when it’s going to happen,” he said. “What style is he going to bring? He may not like how I play. Is my scholarship going to get cut down?”
One name mentioned as a possible replacement by McElroy was current NMU women’s head basketball coach, Troy Mattson. This season, Mattson led the women’s team to the NCAA tournament on a 22-10 record, including a 16-6 record in the GLIAC.
“If he coached me, I know he could push me to the next level,” McElroy said. “I know he could help us win. I really want him to get that job.”
Recruiting has also become a concern for the NMU men’s team. National Signing Day for players to sign their national letters of intent is Wednesday, April 14.
Possible NMU recruits may change their mind on attending a school without a head coach.
“If the recruits coming in don’t want to come in anymore, that’s going to be a problem for the next four years,” McElroy said. “We lose six guys for next year. Hopefully we can still get guys to sign.”