A former Mountaineer has landed his first head coaching job.
Darris Nichols was hired Wednesday as the head men’s basketball coach at Radford University, which is a member of the Big South Conference.
Nichols replaces Mike Jones, who was recently hired as the head coach at UNC-Greensboro after 10 seasons with the Highlanders, posting a 102-81 record. Jones has ties to WVU himself, having served as an assistant coach for the Mountaineers in 2002-03.
As for Nichols, who has been an assistant coach at Florida the past six years, he is returning to his hometown of Radford, Virginia.
“Darris Nichols is a star,” Director of Athletics Robert Lineburg said. “He was an outstanding student-athlete at Radford High School and at West Virginia University. He has climbed the ranks as an assistant coach all the way to the University of Florida in the SEC. At each stop, he has made a tremendous impact. He has played for and worked with some of America’s best basketball coaches, which is so important. He is prepared and ready for this moment, and we are thrilled to welcome him home.”
“With additional coaching experience at Northern Kentucky, Louisiana Tech and now Florida, Darris has made his mark on both the players he has coached and the programs he has been a part of. His success speaks for itself.” Radford President Dr. Brian O Hemphill stated. “What makes Darris unique is his story. As one of ESPN’s top 40 coaches under 40, his story is one of hard work and persistence with a continued focus on family. He is someone who never lost sight of where he came from and the Nichols family values, which were instilled in him at an early age.”
While at Florida he helped coach the Gators to a 123-75 record that included four straight 20-win seasons. Nichols and the Gators also tallied four straight NCAA Tournament bids.
The 2016-17 season was one of the best, while Nichols was at UF. Florida earned a 27-9 record and reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. The Gators finished second in the SEC with a 14-4 record, matching the second-most conference wins in team history. Florida climbed as high as 12th nationally in both the AP and coaches polls and hit No. 3 in RPI and KenPom rankings.
Nichols, a member of Coaches 4 Change, garnered a spot in ESPN.com’s 40 Under 40 in the summer of 2020, rated #17 on the national list that included both head coaches and assistant coaches. He was also rated the No. 2 assistant coach in the SEC in a Stadium poll of coaches around the league. He has coached three future NBA players at Florida in Dorian Finney-Smith, Devin Robinson and Chris Chiozza.
Prior to his six-year (2015-21) stint at Florida, he was an assistant at Louisiana Tech coaching under Mike White during the 2014-15 season. He helped guide Louisiana Tech to the 2015 Conference USA championship as guard Kenneth “Speedy” Smith garnered C-USA Player of the Year and AP All-American honors. The Bulldogs went 27-9 on the season and advanced to the NIT quarterfinals. The 2014-15 season also produced a 15-3 conference mark and a perfect 17-0 home record.
In one season at Wofford (2013-14), Nichols helped guide the Terriers, who were picked to finish sixth in the league by the coaches, to a 20-win season and a Southern Conference Tournament championship, earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. In that NCAA Tournament game, Nichols was on the opposite bench from his former head coach, as Beilein’s Michigan team topped the 15-seed Wofford. The Terriers finished 20-13, including 11-5 on the SoCon.
Prior to joining Wofford, he spent two seasons as an assistant coach at Northern Kentucky where he helped transition the Norse from Division II to Division I. In 2012-13, Nichols was the defensive coordinator, and the squad ranked second in the Atlantic Sun in scoring defense, while also being two wins shy of tying the record for most ever by a Division I transitional team. In the process, Nichols developed Eshaunte Jones who was named Atlantic Sun all-conference first team. The team finished with an 11-16 mark, including 9-9 in the A-Sun.
In his first year at Northern Kentucky, the team went 23-7, tying the school record for best start in school history (13-0) along the way and participated in the Division II Tournament. The guards, coached by Nichols, led the GLVC conference in 3-point field goal percentage and 3-point field goals made.
Nichols shined as a player in the Big East. A four-year letterwinner at West Virginia under Bob Huggins and John Beilein, Nichols helped the Mountaineers to a 26-11 record and a trip to the 2008 NCAA Sweet 16 his senior season. He scored 993 career points and dished 399 assists, while shooting at a .375 clip from 3-point range. He averaged 10.7 points per game, as well as 3.2 assists per game, as a senior on the way to WVU’s Sweet 16 run. He was also a member of the 2007 NIT Championship, 2006 Sweet 16 and 2005 Elite Eight teams and finished his collegiate career as a top five most winningest player in Mountaineer history.
As a junior in 2007, Nichols dished out 4.6 assists per contest and averaged 10.9 points per game as WVU posted a 27-9 record. He led the Big East in assist-to-turnover ratio and was named to the NIT All-Tournament Team. The team reached the NIT final thanks to Nichols’ game-winning 3-pointer in the semifinals versus Mississippi State.
Nichols was also twice a recipient of the Big East Academic All-Star and Sportsmanship Award and earned the 2008 Fred Schaus Captain Award for WVU intercollegiate athletics.
After graduation, he played professionally overseas with Atomeromu SE Paks of the Hungarian League’s A Division. He returned to his alma mater for one season, working with the basketball staff throughout the season and coordinating summer basketball camps.
Nichols earned his bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University in sociology and is married to the former Courtnie McKinney.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING ABOUT DARRIS NICHOLS:
Mike White, Florida Men’s Basketball Head Coach – “Darris is many things. A former great player, a leader, a great teammate, an old soul, a consistent grinder, an ethical worker, a commanding presence on the court and an awesome human being. It’s a big-time hire by Radford! He’s more than ready to come home.”
Bob Huggins, West Virginia Men’s Basketball Head Coach – “Congratulations to Darris. I’m extremely proud of him. I’ve always known he was going to be a head coach, basically when he knew all the sets better than I did. I want to wish him good luck, and I’m hoping he’ll come to Morgantown and see us, along with his team.”
Mike Young, Virginia Tech Men’s Basketball Head Coach – “Darris Nichols is a lot of things. He is a wonderful man. He is an excellent basketball coach and will be a terrific ambassador, not only for Radford University basketball but for Radford University as a whole. I’ve known Darris for many years. I’ve had the opportunity to work with him back in 2014. His mother and father are exceptional people. I know he’s thrilled to have the opportunity to be a Division I men’s basketball head coach and do it in a city that he’s very familiar with. I’m happy for him and for Radford University. He’s going to do an excellent job, and I look forward to following his progress.”
John Beilein, Former Richmond, WVU, Michigan, and Cleveland Cavaliers Basketball Head Coach – “Darris Nichols is a rising star in the world of coaching college basketball. We have remained in close contact from the time he played for us at WVU. He has always had a thirst to learn the game and was one of the smartest players I ever coached. His recruiting skills are exceptional, and he will bring the right people to Radford. Darris really knows the game and how to develop talent too. Student-athletes will love playing for him as well. This is a great match for both Radford University and Darris, and I look forward to following all his success in the years to come.”