When Nate Bollinger met Dane Fischer as an assistant at York College in 2015, he was just a young coach trying to network with people in the industry.
Years later, after both coaches have spent time at multiple schools, Bollinger, a Eastern York High graduate, and Fischer are now on the same team. Bollinger was announced as the director of basketball operations for William & Mary University on Monday. Fischer, 39, recently got his first head-coaching job with the Tribe.
The pair met while Fischer was an assistant at Bucknell and Bollinger attended camps that Bucknell held for players. Bollinger was there to recruit players who weren’t going to get offers to play at Bucknell, but he left an impression on Fischer.
“He just carried himself really well,” Fischer said. “He was really well-spoken, respectful and eager to learn.”
Relationships are key: Bollinger said building relationships is critical in the tight-knit community of college coaches. It's something he has made a point of doing with every person he met. He added that his best piece of advice for young coaches would be to work hard and treat everyone with respect.
“This is all about relationships,” Bollinger said. “Whether it’s with your players, or other people in this industry, people are going to remember how you treat them. It’s about building genuine relationships. They’ve got to know you have their back and you’re not just there for a job.”
Fischer and Bollinger kept in touch as the years went on. Fischer said that unlike a lot of other younger coaches, Bollinger was was able to get advice from him without being overbearing.
So, when Fischer took over at William & Mary in April, Bollinger was on his short list of potential coaches for his staff. It certainly didn't hurt that Bollinger had been named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches Under Armour 30-Under-30 Team in April.
While he wanted to have people around him that he knew in his first season, Fischer said that hiring the best fit for the coaching staff was more important than hiring friends.
“(Bollinger) possesses all the skills you need to be a really good coach,” Fischer said. “He’s a really hard worker, a great communicator, he is very genuine in building relationships and always had a great rapport with the guys he has worked for.”
Back to Division I: After he spent three seasons with NCAA Division I High Point University as its director of player development, Bollinger spent last season as an assistant coach at D-III Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
While getting back to the D-I level quickly was his goal, Bollinger said that the opportunity to join the William & Mary staff and work with Fischer made it the perfect time to jump back into college basketball’s highest level.
“The chance to get back to the Division I level and (coach with) a guy that I have a good relationship with and really trust, it just marked a lot of the boxes,” Bollinger said.
In his new role, Bollinger will handle scheduling, travel and oversee academic compliance for the program, in addition to basketball-related duties.
The position requires the ability to build relationships with various departments at the university, with student-athletes and with the community. Fischer said Bollinger is a perfect fit for that role.
Bollinger and Fischer will attempt to get the Tribe back on the winning track after a 14-17 mark last season, including a 10-8 mark in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Life lesson learned: Bollinger credits his high school coaches for teaching him the importance of connecting with players.
His parents divorced while he was in high school. Having coaches that were there for him showed Bollinger that, when players trust their coaches, they will play harder for them. That trust also creates long-lasting relationships.
Despite the highs and lows he has endured in his short career, which included starting in Division III and then earning, and then losing, a D-I job, Bollinger said basketball is in his DNA. He wouldn’t want to do anything else.
“I don’t know what else I would be doing,” Bollinger said. “I truly believe that it’s all about attitude. It’s been a learning process, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
The future is bright: While he was excited to have Bollinger join his staff, Fischer said he knows that the job is a great step in Bollinger’s career.
Bollinger’s goal is to become a D-I head coach, and Fischer said he possesses all the tools it takes to get there in the future.
“I don’t think there is any question that he has the ability to be a head coach at the college level,” Fischer said. “He has a desire to (be a head coach,) a drive to be really good at it and a willingness to learn. When you throw all that together, those are the guys that get an opportunity to do that.”
Reach Rob Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org.