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Minnesota West women's basketball: Coach Fury calls it a career

ZACH HACKER/DAILY GLOBE Minnesota West head coach Mike Fury talks to his team during a game in Worthington this season. After 34 years at the helm, Fury announced on Monday that he will be stepping down as the Lady Jays’ leader.

WORTHINGTON — Mike Fury picked a good time to retire.

He and his wife, Karen, actually settled on hanging up the coach’s whistle early this season. His basketball team took care of the rest, ensuring that the 34-year head mentor of the Minnesota West Community College Lady Jays went out in style.

“It just got better and better all year,” he said.

On Monday, the “Wizard of West,” the “Silver-Haired Fox,” officially called an end to his thoroughly successful tenure as the Lady Jays head basketball coach. He ended it in Bethlehem, Pa., at the NJCAA Division III National Tournament, where the 2014-15 Jays won one of three games. It was the first time in his 34 years that Fury — who compiled a 473-360 record with 25 state and region tournament berths — took a team to the nationals.

Fury’s employment at West began with a phone call from then-athletic director and men’s basketball coach Arlo Mogck. Fury’s position at the vocational school in Jackson was ending and he was looking for his next challenge. Thus began an era of winning at Worthington’s two-year college, but winning wasn’t always automatic. The school experienced a hard downturn in the late 1990s and actually was unable to field a team for one season. But the program quickly bounced back.

He was named Minnesota College Athletic Conference Coach of the Year in 1992 and 1997, also winning MCAC Southern Division Coach of the Year in 2011 and 2013. This year, he was Region 13A Coach of the Year and the NJCAA District C Coach of the Year.

Fury’s teams have generally been well-stocked with area southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa athletes, which fostered camaraderie among players and an acceptance from fans who enjoyed watching players they’d followed in high school. The program was fortunate, Fury said, to be situated in an area where good high school basketball players were easy to find.

“We’ve always said if we could take the Red Rock Conference All-Star team every year, we could be very, very competitive every year,” Fury said Monday morning. “And we’ve been so fortunate with Worthington High School. It’s always been good for us for them to consider us for their college career.”

Coach Fury said his recruitment efforts have usually consisted of two simple points — that Worthington Community College is a great place to continue to play basketball, and that it’s also a place to get an excellent education. It no doubt hasn’t been lost on players that the basketball program has been stable and competitive. The players, themselves, have been positive about their experiences. “They’re our best recruiters, the players and the former players,” he said.

Taking over the head coaching duties next season will be Rosalie Hayenga-Hostikka, Fury’s assistant coach for the past 11 years. A former Worthington High School standout, she later starred for Fury as a player.

Fury laughed when he remembered discussing his future retirement with Hayenga-Hostikka over the last three years. “I think I Brett Favre’d her about three times,” he remarked about his reluctance to finally pull the trigger.

But now he’s done it, and he says he knows the women’s basketball program is in very good hands. “They say you don’t know what you missed until it’s gone. Well, I didn’t know what I missed until she came,” he said.

So what is next for Mike Fury?

“Well, I hope my golf game gets better,” he answered Monday.

He promises to stay busy in the community, but admits he doesn’t know yet what will fill his schedule. He is certain, however, that he will continue attending Lady Jays basketball games — but in the crowd this time, not on the bench.

As a coach, Fury will be remembered for his passion. His protests directed at the striped shirts could be intense, but when the game was over he typically eased into a friendly, easygoing style. He remembers being thrown out of a game twice. “A number of technicals (fouls), I think. We’re not gonna add those up,” he said.

“I think there’s been some Jekyll and Hyde stories over the years. It’s just that competitiveness, I guess.”

In retirement (he also stepped down from his position in Student Services), Fury will have more time to golf and to spend time with his four grandsons. He’s also thinking about planning a winter vacation — something he’s been unable to do for the past 34 years.

After that, it’s all up in the air.

“I’ve never retired before,” he said. “I guess you never really know what to expect. We’re looking forward to the next step. We’re looking forward to it.”

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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