Former Lions coach and teacher Nick Garman looks back
You don’t have to go far in the Cottage Grove community to find someone who has a fond memory of Nick Garman, who is a retired Cottage Grove High School (CGHS) social studies teacher and basketball coach.
Garman began teaching at CGHS in 1991 and, that year, began his stint of coaching the freshman team for 10 seasons. He would eventually get the opportunity to lead the Lions basketball program in the early and mid 2000s.
“I really didn’t have a great desire to be a head coach, but I also had a way I thought things could be done. So, I went ahead and applied and I got it. With the help of Kevin Yoss, we rebuilt that program.”
At the tail end of his time as Lions coach, Garman led a talented, young Lions roster that looked promising in the future, but he was asked by school administration to resign. Following his time with the Lions, Garman would eventually accept the head coaching job with the Falcons while he continued to teach at CGHS.
“Within about three months, when summer ball was starting up by brother in-law was coaching out there (in Elmira). He was stuck with summer ball, cause their head coach had resigned. I went out and helped him and the kids asked if I would apply for the job. Then the principle called me the next day and asked me to apply,” Garman said.
The Falcons, who hadn’t been to the state tournament in thirty years were led there twice by Garman.
“I just loved it. I built my own coaching staff there and all of them were with me at least fourteen years, and most were volunteers,” Garman said.
Garman spent 15 years with Elmira before retiring in 2020.
“I do miss it. I miss the relationship with the kids’ number one, for me that’s what it was always about. Even when I was at Cottage Grove some of those years we were the small school,” Garman said. “You’re chances of winning the state tournament aren’t really good, one team out of 50 or whatever. I always believed was that what I owed the kids was their best high school experience, I always drove to try and give them that. I was competitive and wanted to win, but it had to be their enjoyment of the game first and foremost.”
During his stretch as basketball coach, Garman has gone on to see many players develop into coaches themselves, including current Lions boys’ basketball coach Seth Hutchison and Elmira Falcons boys’ coach Trevor Daniel, along with the entire Elmira coaching staff. Taylor McCall, who recently coached basketball at CGHS and Tyler Dragt, the head coach of the Crow boys’ basketball team were also a Garman disciples.
“I talked to one my old Cottage Grove kids the other day and he’s coaching fifth and sixth grade basketball here in town. It is just really rewarding that they had enough love for the game that they are sharing that with other people,” Garman said.
Garman became known beyond the community a few years back when a video of him surfaced of his animation and body expressions while coaching went viral. While most people seemed to have found it humorous, Garman is a little embarrassed looking back at it.
“I feel bad about it, I did that because I get wound up. I used to tear into officials way too much. My wife has calmed me down. They do a fantastic job, they care about the kids, that’s why they are out there. I backed off and tried to appreciate that my last few years. But yea, I’ve told people; if I sat down in my chair Instead of standing on the sidelines I would have had an ulcer at the end of the first quarter,” Garman laughed about.
Nowadays in his spare time, Garman can be found at local pickleball courts with his wife, Konnie. The couple travels together, taking trips recently to Disney World with friends. They also have a trip to Italy planned.
“I have to say; my wife is pretty amazing. When you are married to a coach, I think that takes quit a special breed,” Garman said. “You live that job. She was a teacher, so she understood that portion of it. She was also a college basketball player, so she sort of understood that part of it. But you give up a lot of family time [when coaching].”
When Garman coached at Elmira, he would make the 45-minute drive each direction from Cottage Grove, following teaching classes at CGHS.
“We didn’t practice weekends, I didn’t scout, and I cut things out to carve out family time. She was pretty amazing to deal with all of that for all those years. She wanted to travel and do all that stuff, winter is the best time to go where it’s sunny, but that’s basketball season. I told her I’d quit coaching and we’ll go travel. She put up with it for thirty years, I owed that to her and us.”
Garman has acreage west of Cottage Grove, there is wood to cut, fences to fix. He stays busy. Some days he’s bored.
“I don’t miss grading papers or some of the meetings,” Garman said. I will say, when I left Cottage grove, I really thought the high school was going in the right direction administratively, the role that Kevin Herington (CGHS principal) and Chris Wells (assistant principal). If they can keep Kevin and Christ there, they are going to have a really strong school. If you get really good people where they are working with really good people, you’re going to get a quality product.”
Garman’s final season with Elmira came during the COVID-19 pandemic. He also retired from teaching at CGHS in the summer of 2020, but he still wants to continue to see the Cottage Grove community rally around youth.
“One of the sad things I see in our community is a lot of apathy. I feel like we could parent better in our community. We are either too involved in our kids’ lives or not involved enough,” Garman said. “I saw a lot of kids, like 40-50% where school was there haven. School was their structure. I don’t think as a society we give kids boundaries enough. We don’t make them do things. Kids need to be active and doing things with their families. That was one nice thing about being a coach, maybe I could have an influence on creating good fathers or husbands.”
While Garman is now traveling and playing pickleball more than he is spending time coaching on the basketball court or teaching in the classroom, his impact remains in the Cottage Grove and Elmira communities.
“I always told my students, there are two keys to life. Out work people and be good to people. You’ll be successful in anything you’ll do,” Garman said.