ENID, Okla. — Enid made an interesting and promising hire last week in choosing Nina Gregory to lead the Pacers basketball program. While there may be some concerns about Gregory not having head coaching experience, the upsides to her hiring would outweigh such concerns.

Gregory comes to Enid after four years at Southwestern Oklahoma State, two as a player and two as a graduate assistant under SWOSU head coach Kelsi Musick, which is an important factor. Musick, a Canton native, has revived the Lady Bulldogs basketball team from the depths of a 3-24 season when she first took over to playing last season for a national championship.

Gregory was part of that as both a player and grad assistant. She has seen what steps Musick took to breathe renewed life into the SWOSU program, lessons she no doubt will need to draw upon as she steps in as the Pacers' new head coach.

“This is what she (Gregory) wants to do,” Musick told Enid News & Eagle sports reporter Tim Godfrey last week. "She’s passionate about it and it’s hard to find someone to coach in this day and age that’s as extremely passionate as she is. I think that alone is going to help her do a great job."

The Pacers went 8-16 last season and the program benefited from the leadership of Gerrett Spears, who left to take the Kingfisher girls basketball coach position. For Gregory, while she will have to replace some important pieces, she should find a program that was in much better shape than it was when Spears initially became head coach, developing enthusiasm and working to build from the lower levels up and improving the culture of the program.

It's something that Gregory seems to understand.

“One of the reasons that I came to SWOSU in the first place was because of the family environment they had built,” she told the News & Eagle last week. “They’ve taught me a lot about building relationships with players. At the end of the day, it’s more than just basketball. It’s about teaching these young ladies to be young women. As much as basketball is a huge part of it, there’s so much more outside of it.”

Working also in Gregory's favor in establishing credibility with her players will be her own resume as a player who has been with a successful program and who herself is not far removed from her playing career. Her youth also should allow the players to relate to her both as a coach and athlete.

Gregory's hire has some parallels too with the hiring of Enid's new football coach Rashaun Woods earlier this year. Both are the first higher-profile athletic coaching hires under new EHS athletic director Billy Tipps, but more than that, both come in with championship-level experience, bringing with it higher expectations.

Woods also has an impressive resume as a standout record-setting wide receiver at Oklahoma State, a former first-round NFL Draft pick and then leading a moribund high school football program at John Marshall, going from a winless season to a state championship.

Like the girls basketball program, the football program has struggled for wins, but while the victories were few on the gridiron, the program underwent an important positive cultural shift under Woods' predecessor Steve Hayes.

Now, both Gregory and Woods will be looked to bring winning back to both programs. It won't likely be immediate, but the coming weeks and months in Enid athletics will be intriguing.

Coaching updates: Former Enid head football coach Steve Hayes is going back to his native Texas. Hayes this past week accepted the position of quarterback coach at Henderson High School, an east Texas Class 4A Division 1 powerhouse. The Lions are past state champions and advanced to the quarterfinals last season ... Former Plainsmen offensive coordinator Cameron Conder is now the head football coach at Locust Grove ... Former EHS receivers coach Jake Hayes is now the receivers coach at Guthrie, Enid's opening day opponent this season.

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Ruthenberg is sports editor for the Enid News & Eagle. He can be reached at daver@enidnews.com.

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