When investing an entire lifetime of hard work to the game you love, removing yourself from the sport isn’t an option. Freddy Coleman’s and Josh Vaughan’s playing career may have come to an end, but not without leaving them with the opportunity to give back to the game they adore.
The final whistle blew as a distraught Bison men’s basketball team slowly walked off the court at the Sioux Falls Arena for the last time during the 2010-11 season that had ended prematurely. Oral Roberts had taken down the Bison 72-65 in the first round of the Summit League tournament and not only was the season over, but the final chapter of a promising career had been completed.
Freddy Coleman came to NDSU as a highly touted recruit with enormous expectations. After patiently waiting for his time to shine behind Bison stars like Ben Woodside and Brett Winkelman, Coleman was poised to take the reigns as the go-to scorer offensively. After an unfortunate achilles tendon a week prior to the 2009-10 campaign, Coleman was forced to miss his entire junior season.
In hindsight, this could have been the best thing for Coleman, who found himself at a crossroads in his college career. “Until my junior year, I had no idea what the hell I was going to do,” Coleman said. “I was out my whole junior year and that kind of made me take a couple steps back to see what a developing basketball program looks like rather than just the basketball aspect of playing.”
Around the same time a banged up Coleman was on the bench, his teammate and longtime friend Josh Vaughan was lighting it up on the court for the Bison. Vaughan led the Bison in minutes his senior year playing over 35 a night and was just as important on the defensive end of the court as he was on the offensive side, scoring 13 points a game. At the end of the season, Vaughan had to face a similar crossroads his friend and now former teammate Coleman was facing.
“In the summer of 2010, I was trying to go overseas, but I never got a contract,” Vaughan said. “I always knew I wanted to go into coaching so my friend from high school, who was actually an all-American at Wofford, said the director of basketball operations is leaving, so he talked to his head coach.”
Vaughan was awarded the position of director of basketball operations at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., 22 hours away from his family. He was a part of the coaching staff that led the Terriers to a NCAA tournament appearance in 2011. It was the second time Vaughan had made a trip to the NCAA tournament with the last time coming as a role player on the 2009 Bison team that lost to Kansas in the opening round.
“It was indescribable, really,” Vaughan said. “You don’t really understand it when you are in it; it’s just such a whirlwind.”
Wofford was eliminated in the opening round, 74-66, to Brigham Young University on an outstanding 34-point performance from Jimmer Fredette. The season in Spartanburg had ended and Vaughan had decided it was time come back to his home in the Midwest.
In the summer of 2011, Vaughan took the assistant coach job at Minnesota State University Moorhead. As fate would have it, Vaughan got the opportunity to rekindle his relationship with his former teammate who had recently graduated. That same summer, Coleman had taken an assistant coaching job at Concordia under head coach Rich Glas.
“When I learned I was going to stay in the area after graduation, I was looking for apartments,” Coleman said. “We were like, ‘we should live together.’ It was great for us because we played together and we’re brothers then and you know it just worked out.”
Reuniting with his former teammate helped both Coleman and Vaughan as they were now making their way through the coaching ranks. Feeding off each other’s experiences and growing as basketball coaches started to make the two former Bison stars closer than ever.
“It’s kind of funny because when he was at Concordia, we were recruiting the same guys and teams so we were already always on the road together and recruiting together. We were always doing the same things together so we have a really good relationship,” Vaughan said. “He’s someone you can trust no matter what.”
The continuity of the former Bison standouts didn’t go unnoticed. Earlier this summer, head coach Saul Phillips officially announced that Coleman would be returning to NDSU to join the Bison coaching staff. Phillips had hired one piece of the puzzle and then in July, he announced that Vaughan will join Coleman at NDSU as the director of men’s basketball operations.
“I felt like this was a good opportunity especially with how good the team is this year with the good roster with everyone returning from last year,” Vaughn said. “Coming back to my alma mater is always a good thing and getting that chance to get back to where it all started.”
Rising through the coaching ranks at a young age is truly a testament to the knowledge and skill of both Coleman and Vaughan. Both know the challenges ahead, but they know that the opportunity to grow as coaches can only benefit them down the road.
Coleman and Vaughan hope to be an intricate part of the Bison success due to their familiarity with many of the leaders on the team that include Taylor Braun, Marshall Bjorklund and Trayvonn Wright.
“They were freshman when I was a senior, so I have known them better than a lot of people,” Coleman said. “We would hang out at my place or out on our off days, when we got done with lifting or practice. We would always be together.”
The pressure to succeed has been more apparent than ever for the Bison this season and Coleman and Vaughan are looking forward to taking the challenge head on. With future success within grasp, they have been the prototypical player making the jump into the coaching ranks. The climb will be difficult and in due time their shot will come.
“I don’t want to put a timetable on it, but I do eventually want to be a head coach,” Vaughan said. “Once I feel comfortable with being a head coach I’ll go after it, but for now I can be an assistant, learn and hopefully somewhere down the road.”
Bison coaches have gone on to do bigger and better things, and for Coleman and Vaughan, their time will come. For now the former Bison stars will put their noses to the grindstone knowing all well their transformation from the court to the sidelines is already complete.