Sam Houston State Head Coach Brenda Welch-Nichols is a Navy wife, mother of three (Brady 22, Brock 14 & Brelee 10), published children’s book illustrator and the winningest coach in SHSU’s Division I history. When I talked with her this week, she was volunteering at Brelee’s school Field Day, getting ready to go to Brock’s 8th grade gala that night, and was happy to report that Brady and his platoon had called from overseas the day before to sing her ‘Happy Birthday.’ The Nichols family is always going, always doing something. “I wouldn’t have it any other way!” Brenda says.
When did you know you wanted to be a college basketball coach? How have your career path and your family’s journey been intertwined?
Brenda: I’ve been married to Barry for 26 years. We met at Sam Houston State University. I was a basketball player and he was a trainer. I came to Sam Houston to be a commercial artist, but art classes and basketball practice didn’t mix so I went the basketball/coaching route. I graduated from SHSU with a major in Physical Education and a minor in Art. I told Barry before we started dating that I would be a college coach. That was Plan A. Plan B was to coach something and Plan C was to do art. I have managed to stick to my plans.
Barry and I got married December 20, 1988. He joined the United States Navy and I finished college. We were stationed in San Diego, Norfolk VA and Pensacola FL. While in Pensacola, I started coaching at Pensacola Junior College (now Pensacola State). Brady was born in 1993. When I went into labor, I was showing a recruit around campus (Tammy Hill). Brady’s delivery was not easy. He was born with aspiration pneumonia and he spent a week in the neonatal unit. This was tough on me as a young, inexperienced mom. I remember trying to keep my mind off of Brady, who was taken to another hospital while I had to stay at a different one—I made recruiting calls. By the way, I got that recruit!
After Brady was born, Barry left the Navy and my career started full swing. I was asked to be the head coach at Western Texas College, the junior college where I played, then head coach at Okaloosa-Walton Community College, then assistant coach at University of Memphis. Brock was born in Memphis in 2001. I went on to be the recruiting coordinator at South Alabama, then head coach at Mercer (Brelee was born there in 2005), and now I’m going on 10 years at Sam Houston State.
How have you been able to devote so much time to motherhood while simultaneously advancing a successful coaching career?
Brenda: I am not a person who sits still long. I chase a lot of rabbits and always have a lot of irons in the fire, from volunteering at PTO to helping with Girl Scouts and community events. Over the years, I’ve had to learn to balance my job with my kids’ schedule, being a mom, wife and coach. I can promise I’m not perfect and I made mistakes along the way. I missed games, school functions and holidays…at times you feel guilty for missing out on so much of your kids’ lives. What I learned early is that when I was home, I made it quality time, not quantity. If I missed Thanksgiving, I came home and had it a week later. I celebrated Easter with my family on another day. It didn’t matter if I missed a day, I made it up. My kids still dye eggs every year, we dress up for Halloween, we decorate Christmas cookies, we do art projects. Even with the coaching schedule, I find a way to create the family fun atmosphere.
Give me the “scouting report” on your two younger children.
Brenda: Brock just turned 14. For a middle child, he is very confident and secure with himself… He is a younger brother but plays a huge roll as a big brother to Brelee. He is driven in what he wants. He will tell you that real men wear pink, he watches Dance Moms (for the drama), has a comical side to him but is serious at times. Brock plays any and all sports we will let him play—baseball, football, basketball and track. He’s already set to be an Eagle Scout. He wants to go to college to play baseball and be a US Marine. He has wanted to join the military since he was four years old.
Our daughter Brelee, on the other hand, is nine going on 15 and it’s all about her! She is very headstrong with a leader’s mentality, but has a heart of gold. She’s extremely talented in art and sports. She competes in art contests regularly, and plays softball and basketball. Brelee is full of life and energy. Rumor has it she’s a mini-me.
Let’s talk about Brady. Did it come as a surprise to you and Barry that he chose to be a soldier, or was that a natural path for the son of a Navy veteran?
Brenda: Brady graduated high school in 2012 and went to Angelina College to play basketball as a walk-on. He had a great, fun year at Angelina. At the end of that first year, Barry and I were not happy with Brady’s fun year academically. We enrolled him at Sam Houston State and directed him into Army ROTC because he had always liked the military. Brady also served as my basketball manager. This was a good start at a new school.
By January, Brady was signing up for the Texas Army National Guard reserve. Then he attended boot camp at Fort Benning and graduated as a Calvary Scout. As a mother and the wife of a veteran, all I wanted was for my son to grow and mature. The structure was good for Brady. This was just reserve, until last December when he came to me and said, ‘Mom, school is not for me.’ Well, this didn’t sit with me at all. I was a kid labeled with learning disabilities…had to work hard for my education. So to have a kid say I am not going back to school, after I took loans out, wow—mom was mad. Later that year, we found out that the deployment would come because Brady wasn’t in school. I was not happy. On one hand, I want my sons to serve, but at the end of the day, I am Mom and he is my baby boy always.
Even though you know he’s going, where, and how long, it’s still hard. Brady left in February and will be gone anywhere from nine months to a year. My team had just lost a game when I got a call from him at 10:20pm. He said, ‘Mom, we are leaving for Germany in 30 minutes.’ I told him, ‘Don’t be a hero, you already are. Keep your head down and don’t kill a camel. I love you.’ I cried all the way home.
Are you able to stay in contact with Brady overseas?
Brenda: Technology has improved from years ago and it helps with him being gone. It’s gotten easier as the days go by. Brady is an amazing son, big brother and friend to all. He is a gentle giant (6’9”) with a huge heart. For Mother’s Day, he spent over an hour talking with me and the kids. He is so patient with Brelee. She will Skype him all hours of the day and he will just let her talk to him. Yesterday was my birthday and Brady had some of his platoon sing to me! That melted my heart. He also let me know that, in a couple weeks, he may be unreachable for a month or so. His unit is in Egypt right now and they are being moved to a different, more dangerous part of the country. I told him to tell them his mama said he can’t go!
I miss him dearly. Memorial Day is special for our family. So many family members have served in all the wars. Brady is just one of many carrying on the military tradition. My nephew Jacob Henry, who is Brady’s age, is serving in the Navy right now. We are a blessed and proud family to have our sons fight for our freedom.
I believe you may be the only college basketball coach in history who is also a children’s book illustrator! How do you make time to do your art?
Midnight-3am is when I usually work on my drawings. I have three books out right now: Beauregard Le’Moose: Is Loose in New Orleans, Wooly Willie’s New Day, and Wooly Willie’s Christmas Gift. I’ve illustrated a chapter book series that will be published within the next month. The book series is called Miss Priss, and its main character is based on my daughter Brelee. She’s a ballet-dancing girly girl who dreams of breaking out of her shell and doing something different. In most book series, the characters stay the same age in all the books, but this one will be unique because the books will age with Miss Priss.