Christian McGhee '08 completes the circle

posted on August 7, 2012

Christian McGhee always knew that he would return to Red Cloud to work and coach at some point, he just didn’t know it would be so soon.

Fresh out of college, having graduated from Chadron State University in May, McGhee has begun work as Red Cloud’s new Athletic Director and head boys’ basketball coach.

McGhee had originally applied for a different position within the high school, but as superintendent Bob Brave Heart looked over his résumé, he decided that McGhee would be an excellent fit for the newly-open AD job.

When Brave Heart broached the subject with McGhee, he didn’t need much convincing. In his words, “I couldn’t say no – it was the opportunity of a lifetime.”

McGhee says that one of his biggest challenges will be having to gain experience quickly on the job, but he is close to former AD Jen Schaer and former basketball coach Matt Rama, and he knows that he will be able to ask them for advice when necessary.

This will be McGhee’s first full-time coaching gig, although he has done quite a bit of assistant coaching, including in Milwaukee at the annual Indigenous Games. Looking back, he says, “I think that [my coaching] helped me as a player, and that my playing in college helped me as a coach, just seeing everything…the whole big picture, not just myself as a player.”

McGhee says he has long imagined himself in coaching situations; what strategies he would implement in a close game, or which players he would put in in key situations. Looking at his squad for next season, he is optimistic, but knows that there is a lot of work to be done:

“I know we’ll have a few leaders. We’ll have two or three guys who could lead the team. But, we’ll also have a lot of young guys that will need to step up and play key roles. It doesn’t matter if they’re freshmen or seniors, or what. They’re going to have to step up when the time comes. We have a lot of kids that are talented. I just need to see who works well together.”

McGhee has positive memories of the Red Cloud boys’ basketball team from 2008 – his senior year – who finished third in the South Dakota state tournament. Most important, he says, was how the team members were not overly competitive amongst themselves for individual accomplishments. “We all knew our roles and worked together,” he said.

2008 was the crowning year of a stellar high school career for McGhee. That year, in addition to being named to the first team all-state, he was chosen for the all-tournament team at the state tournament, was a finalist for “Mr. Basketball” for the state of South Dakota, and was the ’08 recipient of the Spirit of Su award. The lifetime Red Cloud student, who was on the honor roll every quarter since the fifth grade, was also named an academic all-stater.

As a 22 year-old fresh out of college, McGhee knows that he is stepping into a position that is often filled by individuals who are significantly older. He is the only one of his teammates from Chadron State graduating into a head coaching position, and probably the only one out of his graduating class with a school athletic director job waiting for him.

All the same, McGhee thinks that his relative youth may be a benefit as well, saying; “I think that I can relate to [the players] a little bit better than someone older might be able to. And because I went here and I know how it is here at Red Cloud and I know what is expected…I know what needs to happen on the court and the classroom.” At the same time, he knows that both the AD and head coaching positions can sometimes be lightning rods of controversy, and he is willing to take that in stride. “I’m not too worried about people not liking me,” he said with a smile.

McGhee is also very aware that he has some big shoes to fill as boys’ basketball coach. When asked about what it is like to follow a coach like Rama, he said; “I want [the players] to feel like they didn’t lose anything by Matt leaving. I know it’s going to be hard, because I feel like we lost something because Matt left.”

McGhee further reflected, “Matt helped me in so many ways that made me want to coach. Knowing that he’s stepping down, I want to continue a strong tradition of Red Cloud’s athletic program; winning and also just having fun; also coming back and helping the people that I came from, and the [school] that I graduated from.”

Indeed, this idea of “completing the circle” resonates clearly with McGhee, as the Pine Ridge Reservation will always be home for him. He says that even if he hadn’t gotten a job at Red Cloud, he would have sought out work somewhere in the community, at one or another of the many reservation schools. But Red Cloud clearly holds a special place for him.

Looking ahead a couple of years, McGhee knows what he wants his future players to think about him as a coach: “I want them to know that I’m passionate about the game, that I have a lot of energy, and that I’m excited to be there…that I’m just ready to take on anything.”

McGhee does have one qualm about the job, though. When asked about his game attire, he says that he will dress up like Rama did, but with one key difference:

“I don’t know about the suspenders…probably not suspenders.”