Coming off another great season capped by 29 wins, the Mid-South Conference regular season and tournament championships, and a second consecutive appearance in the NAIA-I National Tournament second round, Jeff Nickel will enter his fourth season as the head coach of the Shawnee State University in the 2016-17 campaign.
Nickel took over the head coaching position in the 2013-14 season and has continued the tradition of excellence that was established by NAIA Hall of Fame Coach Robin Hagen-Smith. Hagen-Smith coached the Bears for 30 seasons and amassed 638 NAIA victories, which led all active coaches at the time of her retirement following the 2012-13 season. Nickel served as an assistant for four seasons under Hagen-Smith.
The 2014-15 season marked a banner year for the SSU banner program as Nickel guided the Bears to wins in their first seven contests on the year and never looked back from that point forward as the third-year headman guided the Bears to five straight wins before falling to the eventual NAIA Division I National Champions in Oklahoma City University during the NAIA Second Round to close the season.
In that stretch of five straight wins came one of the greatest runs in program history, as the Bears grabbed three MSC Tournament victories, including two in overtime and all three by 10 points or less, to win the conference tournament championship for the first time in school history by defeating the MSC Regular Season Champions and eventual NAIA Division I Runner-Ups, Campbellsville, by a 74-67 tally in overtime.
The 2015-16 season saw Nickel's team exceed the heights of the previous year. The Bears won 29 games, including a 12-2 mark in the MSC to win the conference regular season championship by two games. Shawnee State would then romp through the conference tournament, winning all three games by double digits to take the tournament crown for a second consecutive season.
After qualifitying for the NAIA Tournament, Nickel's squad would win by eight points over Langston (Okla.), 77-69. The Bears' run in the tournament would end in the second round, with the team falling to eventual national runner-up Baker (Kan.) 70-56. The team would finish the year with a 29-6 record, the best record since Shawnee State moved to NAIA-I, and the program's best record since a 31-1 season in 2008/09.
Coach Nickels helped Ali Zieverink earn her third MSC Player of the Year award. She scored 23 points per game to lead the NAIA in scoring, shooting 60.5 percent from the field. In addition, Ashton Lovely earned MSC Freshman of the Year honors, and both players were named to the all-conference first team. Abby Feuchter and Madison Ridout earned second team honors as well. Zieverink was also honored nationally as an NAIA first team All-American, with Lovely earning second team honors.
This coming season will be Nickel’s eighth overall at Shawnee State. In addition to four years as an assistant coach, he also served as interim head coach for six games during the 2012-13 season. He compiled a record of 5-1 during that time.
The Bears also experienced great success in Nickel’s four seasons as an assistant coach. In his first year as an assistant coach, SSU advanced to the NAIA Division II championship game in 2009-10. During the 2010-11 season, the Bears moved to the Mid-South Conference and NAIA Division I and went back to the Fab Four in that season. As an assistant, Nickel’s responsibilities included recruiting, scouting, walk through and Individual workouts.
During his career with the Bears, Nickel has coached 18 MOC or MSC All-Conference players while with Shawnee State, including six in his two seasons as the head coach of the program. Of those six, five were named First-Team All-MSC. This total includes the program's lone MSC Conference Player of the Year winners - Zieverink and Sheets.
In all, Nickel has coached 10 of the 28 players who have been named an NAIA All-American in school history, including five since taking over the head coaching post in the 2013-14 campaign.
Prior to Shawnee State, Nickel spent one season as head coach of his alma mater at Greenup County High School (Ky.). He went 17-10 in his only season and amassed the best regular season in 11 years at GCHS. He also spent two seasons as the head girls' basketball coach at Portsmouth High School. While at Portsmouth, he helped develop the Portsmouth Girls Youth Basketball League. Nickel has also spent four seasons as an assistant to KHSAA Ring of Honor Coach Randy Ward at Portsmouth Clay High School. Together they compiled a league championship, three sectional titles and two district finals appearances.
Coach Nickel began his basketball career at Greenup County High School under Coach Randy Ward. While at GCHS he was a member of three 63rd district championships, two 16th Region semifinal teams and one 16th Region runner-up team. He graduated from GCHS in 2000. The following year he started his coaching career at 18 years old at McKell Middle School in South Shore, Kentucky.
Nickel received his bachelor's degree from Shawnee State University in 2005 and holds a Grade 7-12 Integrated Social Studies Teaching license. In 2011, he received his master's degree in Athletic Administration/Coaching from Concordia University-Irvine, California. He resides in South Shore, Kentucky.