NICEVILLE – Butch Pierre gets it.
He knows the lofty expectations at NWF State. He understands the hype that comes with Panhandle, Region 8 and national title banners – each of which pepper the Raider Arena concourse above Mickey Englett Court.
For a man who shined as a four-year starter at Mississippi State, for a man who’s viewed as an ace recruiter after D-I stints at LSU, Oklahoma State, N.C. State and Memphis, for a man who built the Tigers’ Final Four team of 2006 and references legendary coach Tubby Smith as a mentor, it’s impossible to rattle him.
And it’s impossible not to get swept up in the praise, the excitement, the passion he has for his next venture: head coach of the Raiders men’s basketball program.
“My style?” Pierre responded when asked about his coaching philosophy. “It’s a winning style.”
For Director of Athletics Ramsey Ross and President Dr. Devin Stephenson, the duo responsible for Tuesday’s marquee hire, that confidence was paramount in continuing the winning tradition of a program that’s won five straight Panhandle Conferences, back-to-back Region 8 titles and an NJCAA national title in 2015.
“He fits the profile of our last two coaches in terms of extensive D-I experience and a wealth of contacts,” said Ross, referencing current East Tennessee State coach Steve Forbes and recently departed Steve DeMeo, who accepted an assistant coaching role with St. John’s University this offseason. “He’s known to be an elite recruiter and he’s recruited tons of NBA players.”
And, as Ross points out, his recruiting prowess has unique ties to Niceville after placing Kedrick Brown at Okaloosa-Walton Community College (now NWF State) in 1999.
“He was supposed to replace Stromile Swift, the second pick in the (2000) draft,” said Pierre, then an assistant at LSU. “I recruited, signed and placed Kedrick with OW.”
The rest is history. Brown went on to be the highest draft pick ever to come out of JUCO after being selected by the Boston Celtics 11th overall in the 2001 draft.
“To have that worldwide network of recruiting was a paramount concern for me, but Butch definitely has that box checked,” Ross said.
Pierre’s recruiting prowess has only been bolstered in the last year. As he watched his two sons excel in their coaching respective roles at Mississippi State and Liberty, helped nurse his 85-year-old father back to health and published “Growing up Great: Life Lessons and Coaching,” he also attended college basketball practices all over the country to lend advice.
That included ACC, Big 12 and SEC programs and also NWF State, just a hop, skip and a jump from his Destin residence.
“I was actually able to attend several games at Northwest and then I attended a lot of practices,” said the 56-year-old Pierre, who began his 35-year coaching career as a grad assistant at Mississippi State in 1984. “I’d speak to the team because I developed a relationship with Steve DeMeo. We both worked out at the Destin Fitness Center, so we started talking and I became more familiar with the program.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think the job was opening up.”
But it did. And NWF State was selective in filtering the applicants to 60, which was then reduced to four finalists for interviews.
Pierre, it turns out, said all the right things.
“He’s coached in the Final Four and he’s detail oriented,” Ross said. “He went so far as getting down to the brass tax of end-of-game situations that will win and lose you games.
“With attending practices throughout the year, he’s familiar with the program, familiar with the situation and familiar with the expectations.. His expectation is to win a national championship. And that’s our expectation. We’re incredibly confident he can do that.”
When Pierre was given the news Tuesday morning, he was humbled despite his Division-I roots. He was also ready to get to work, immediately putting out phone calls to fill the nine scholarship spots open on the 12-man roster.
“The first thing I told Ramsey was ‘I’m excited and my wife is excited. Go Raiders,” Pierre said. “I’m just humbled to join the Raider nation. When you look at this situation – the fundamentals, the elements and tradition are there. It starts with great leadership from president Stephenson and then Ramsey Ross, who’s been there for awhile and understands the athletic department, the Panhandle Conference, the community and the school.
“I think it’s the best college at this level in America. All the tools, academics, academic support, facilities, environment is there along with the best fans. This is where I’m supposed to be. I’m going to have fun with this and work every day to make a difference in the players’ life, the state of the athletic department, campus life and the community. Steve DeMeo left the program in great shape and I’m looking to elevate it even further.”
Just how does Pierre plan to do so? It starts on the recruiting trail – where glue players carry just as much weight as Division-I prospects.
“Coach Bennett at Virginia told me if you do three or four things and you do them really well, and the team believes in them and buys in, you’ll be successful,” Pierre said. “It’s been proven that multiple styles can win national championships. So it’s more about managing players, and the type of player you get it’s imperative you have that core belief system. You can play with any style you want, but if your guys don’t believe in each other, the talent means nothing.
“Will we have a fun atmosphere? Yes. Will we have an offense that is entertaining? Yes. Defensively, will we be able to get stops and guard the 3-point line and not let teams get easy baskets inside? Yes.
“The key is everyone buying in, and if we do that we’ll be successful.”