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Coast to coast: McCoy’s path to D-I coaching career ran through Mitchell

NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, N.Y.--When Rob McCoy pulled into Jeremy Nielsen's driveway in Moscow, Idaho, it was their first meeting. The next day, they began their drive to Mitchell, where they were set to join the Dakota Wesleyan University baseball tea...

Former Dakota Wesleyan University baseball captain Rob McCoy has served as the head coach at Division I Niagara University since 2009. (Photo courtesy of Niagara University Athletics)
Former Dakota Wesleyan University baseball captain Rob McCoy has served as the head coach at Division I Niagara University since 2009. (Photo courtesy of Niagara University Athletics)

NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, N.Y.-When Rob McCoy pulled into Jeremy Nielsen's driveway in Moscow, Idaho, it was their first meeting.

The next day, they began their drive to Mitchell, where they were set to join the Dakota Wesleyan University baseball team as junior college transfers. After passing the Black Hills, McCoy-a Halfway, Oregon, native-began to wonder where the mountains went. He had no idea, however, that Mitchell was the first stop on a nearly 20-year baseball journey that has taken him from coast to coast.

During the last two decades, McCoy has embarked on a path that has taken him from DWU team captain, to unpaid assistant coach and finally to a position as the head coach at Division I Niagara University-10 minutes from Niagara Falls, New York-where he has produced five Major League Baseball draft picks since 2009.

"I realized (at DWU) that I wasn't going to play beyond college," McCoy said. "I grew up in a teaching family and I loved baseball. I didn't want to be a teacher in a classroom, so coaching was kind of a natural fit."

McCoy's playing career came to an end in 2002, after a season in which the Tigers won their first conference championship in 83 years. But he stayed at DWU for another year to finish degrees in sports medicine and psychology. Meanwhile, he also served as an assistant to then-head coach Adam Neisius.

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Even before entering the coaching ranks, Neisius could see the coaching potential emanating from McCoy, who made a seamless transition into coaching many players that had called him a teammate the year prior.

"Once we got to the fall of his senior year, he started to show some really good signs about being a leader," Neisius said. "Rob just knew the game. He was very baseball savvy, so it was probably the fall of his senior year that I saw he was going to be a pretty good coach."

While at DWU, the school's athletic director was Scott Gines-a former Division I baseball head coach at Radford and Virginia Military Institute-who helped McCoy begin to work the summer camp circuit in the southeast.

After serving as a prep coach while getting his master's degree at the University of Virginia, McCoy became a volunteer assistant at James Madison University and was eventually hired at Niagara as a paid assistant without ever visiting the area.

"They offered me the job Friday, and I said I'll be there Monday," McCoy said. "I moved up with just a truck full of stuff. I was only going to be here for a year or two and go somewhere warmer. Now this is my 12th year here, total."

McCoy was an assistant for the Purple Eagles for three seasons, but head coach Chris Chernisky resigned prior to the 2009 season. McCoy was given the interim job and has not relinquished it, amassing 177 wins to date.

During his tenure, McCoy has gained a reputation as a hitting guru, coaching three of the program's top-six all-time hitters. One of his most prized pupils, Greg Cullen, led the nation with a .458 average in 2018 and was named to four All-American teams.

One of his DWU roommates and current Mitchell baseball coach, Luke Norden, saw McCoy's ability to help hitters even as teammates in the early 2000s.

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"He knew more about hitting and what he wanted to do, he just couldn't do it himself," Norden said. "He wishes he could have done things better (as a hitter), the way he was able to analyze and talk about hitting at the time. He was just always good with being a positive guy."

Despite initially planning to head for warmer weather, McCoy has maintained his post for more than a decade at Niagara, setting down roots with a wife and a child. Part of the reason he chose to stay, was that the area and campus reminded him of Mitchell and a larger DWU.

Niagara is a school of roughly 4,200 students that sits atop the Niagara Gorge, carved by the Niagara River that separates the United States and Canadian borders. Upon arrival, the intimacy of the campus immediately brought back memories of DWU.

"When I was driving into Niagara Falls, I was like, 'This couldn't remind me any more of Mitchell, South Dakota,'" McCoy said. "The school is similar, just a little bit bigger. It's a family-type school, where there's good relationship and somewhere you can really feel at home."

McCoy still maintains contact with Neisius-who is now the head coach at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas-while also attempting to gather each year with Norden and Nielsen, who works for the Mitchell Parks and Recreation Department.

"We kept that going and we're still keeping it going," Nielsen said. "It helped that we were all far away from our families, so we had to get the good friendships and we made our own family."

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