Tennessee State Associate Head Coach takes over at Walters State

Jerry Nichols calls Walters State his “second home.” And when he saw an opportunity to return to that home, he took it and ran with it. 

On Thursday, Walters State announced Nichols, a former player and assistant coach at the college, as their new Head Men’s Basketball Coach. 

Nichols has spent the last five seasons as an assistant coach at Tennessee State University under Penny Collins. 

“This is just the right fit,” Nichols said. “Coach Collins is my dearest friend and we have done a lot together. The Tennessee State program is in good hands, and I have learned a lot from him. But when this opportunity came to come to my second home, it was just too good to pass up.

“Hopefully, I can be an example for any young kid that is coming up and has been through what I have been through. I went from Memphis, to East Tennessee, to playing at an institution that I fell in love with, to then becoming a head coach at that institution. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Nichols will be replacing his former coach, Bill Carlyle. Carlyle retired after 46 years this past season. 

For Nichols, to replace the man who he says is like a dad to him is a special opportunity. 

“When you think about the legacy that he has and all the things that he has built, it’s second to none,” Nichols said about Carlyle. “I was telling someone that most people think about Coach K and Roy Williams and all these guys, but I think about Bill Carlyle. I’ve seen it firsthand having played for him. I was an inner-city kid out of Memphis. Playing here was the biggest blessing I’ve had. I am excited to be his successor and be here at Walters State. The college means a lot to me.” 

As a player at Walters State, Nichols was a standout for Carlyle from 2001-2004. During his freshman season, Nichols was an NJCAA Second Team All-American, the Region 7 Eastern Player of the Year, the Region 7 Tournament MVP and made the TCCAA and NJCAA All-Tournament Teams. The Senators won the Region 7 Championship.

Following a redshirt season due to a torn ACL, Nichols came back unstoppable. Nichols averaged 21.6 points per game, set the school record in points, was an NJCAA First Team All-American, the Region 7 Player of the Year and was on the TCCAA and NJCAA All-Tournament Teams. The Senators once again won the Region 7 Championship. 

“For me to be able to come back to a program that I love and do the same things that I have done in the past and bring them to Morristown, there’s nothing better,” Nichols said. “It’s exciting to just be able to come in the same gym that I came in and put in the time as a player. Now, being able to be on the sideline and watch kids develop and do the same thing that I did is something that I am going to enjoy each and every day.”

Following his time at Walters State, Nichols then went on to play at Arkansas State for two years before coming back to Walters State for a year as an assistant coach. 

After two years as an assistant at Union College, Nichols returned to the TCCAA to become the head coach at Motlow State. Nichols spent four years at Motlow State and five years at Southwest Tennessee. During that time at both colleges, Nichols compiled a record of 200-59, brought Motlow State their first NJCAA Tournament appearance in school history, won five TCAAA regular season titles and won the Region 7 Tournament four times to qualify for the NJCAA Tournament. Nichols highest finish was at Southwest Tennessee in 2015-16 when the Saluqis went to the Elite Eight. 

Nichols was named the Coach of the Year in the TCCAA five times. 

“The TCCAA is a really strong and competitive conference,” Nichols said. “I had a lot of success at Motlow and Southwest. The reality now is that I feel like I am a better coach now than I was even five years ago. I am excited to be back in the conference.” 

When he left Southwest Tennessee, Nichols made the jump to the Division I level and to Tennessee State. Using those five years at TSU, along with his playing time at Arkansas State, Nichols understands what it takes to win at both the JUCO and NCAA levels. 

“I have 18 years of college experience, and I think you just take a little bit from all your experiences,” Nichols said. “You put that into each and every student athlete. The biggest thing that I am going to preach here is love and commitment and how to handle adversity. Being able to take all my life experiences and give it to these young men to give them the best possible chance to be great men in the Morristown community is key.” 

When making the decision on who would follow Carlyle, Walters State Athletic Director Derek Creech looked at the passion Nichols has for Walters State. That, along with his success in the conference as a head coach, made the hire a no-brainer. 

“We are very excited to welcome back Jerry Nichols,” Creech said. “Jerry has been the embodiment of the type of culture we strive for at Walters State. To see the passion he continues to have for the program, along with the head coaching success he brings in, we knew he would be the perfect fit.”

In terms of philosophy on the basketball court, Nichols is bringing an exciting brand of basketball to Morristown and wants to teach his players everything they need to know in order to make it to the next level. 

“I want to guard you 94 feet,” Nichols said. “We are going to play an extremely exciting brand of basketball. We want to get up and down and score a lot. More importantly, we want to teach the guys the fundamentals of the game. We just want to get guys prepared to play at the next level.”

Another selling point for Nichols in terms of coming to Walters State is the overall success the Athletic Department has had over the years. Just this past season, Walters State had six All-Americans, won four Region 7 Tournament Championships, finished sixth in the NJCAA World Series in softball, third at the NJCAA DII Golf Championship and made the Sweet Sixteen at the NJCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. 

“The brand sells itself,” Nichols said. “Seeing all those people have the opportunity to win, I think it says a lot about the people here in the city and the people at the college. It shows how invested Dr. (Tony) Miksa is with the program. I think the success of everyone helps with the community and the environment. It’s a great culture, and I am excited to support and be at everyone’s games.”

Nichols walks into a Walters State roster that loses a good group of sophomores but also returns a freshman class that played significant minutes last season. Nichols has already been in touch with those players and is excited to see what they can bring to the court and his team. 

“I’ve had some great conversations with the guys,” Nichols said. “I think that those guys will be receptive to my coaching. I told them to do their research on me. Me and Coach Carlyle are similar in things but also have different approaches to certain things.”

In terms of short-term and long-term goals, Nichols wants his teams to accomplish things off the court first, understanding that in order to accomplish things on the court you have to be able to take care of business in the classroom and out in the community. 

“We want to win championships,” Nichols said. “We want to win, but the most important goal is that we want to graduate student athletes. In my career as a head coach, I have a 98% graduation rate. My goal is to continue to help student athletes graduate and to help students transition. We want to play the game of basketball the right way and be good citizens.”

Nichols’ first game as head coach won’t come until November, but the work starts now as he looks to continue to get to know his players and those in the community. And Nichols has a message to the community and looks forward to seeing everyone come November. 

“I am hoping that the city of Morristown can come out to the games and see us,” Nichols said. “I am excited to be in the community of Morristown and get the fan base going. I want to pack out the gym.”


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