Zac Nussbaum, who coached Southwestern’s boys basketball team on an interim basis late last season, was hired for the full-time job on Monday. (Courier file photo by Devin Rowe)
Zac Nussbaum, who coached Southwestern’s boys basketball team on an interim basis late last season, was hired for the full-time job on Monday. (Courier file photo by Devin Rowe)
Southwestern High School spent the last two months interviewing candidates for its boys basketball head coaching job and even handed out an offer. But in the end, the school got the man it wanted from the very beginning.

Zac Nussbaum, who guided the Rebels over their final five games of the past season, was named the program’s full-time coach at the Southwestern School Board meeting on Monday.

Nussbaum, who also coaches cross country and track & field at the school, initially turned down the boys basketball job when it was offered to him in late March. But with two months to think about it and a chance to talk with his family, Nussbaum decided to take the job the second time around.

“I figured it was the best thing for the program to see if maybe there was somebody with more experience who was interested in the job,” Nussbaum said. “After thinking about it, I decided to go ahead and go for it. I’m excited to get started.”

Nussbaum took over the Rebels late last season under difficult circumstances. Longtime head coach Jerry Bomholt resigned after running into difficulties with the players and Nussbaum coached the team over the final two weeks of the season. Southwestern went 3-2 over that span and reached the sectional championship game.

As soon as the season ended, the search for a new coach began. If Athletic Director Tom Scroggins had had his way, the search would have taken just a few hours. But Nussbaum wanted the school to do its due diligence, just in case a “big name” was out there.

After a round of interviews, Southwestern indeed offered the job to another coach and was close to finalizing the deal when it fell apart. A week later, Nussbaum agreed to take the job.

“Zac was never our second choice. He was our first choice all along,” Scroggins said. “It shows what kind of guy he is that he wanted what was best for the program first.”

The team that Nussbaum takes over is ready to win now. Despite an early-season injury to star forward Matthew Williams, the Rebels still went 17-9 a year ago and return all five of their original starters from that team.

Nussbaum, who has been with the program for several years, knows the team well and knows what kind of season the Rebels are capable of having.

“We have plenty of talent and if we can stay healthy we feel like we can have a great year,” Nussbaum said. “We need to defend better. I’m an offensive-minded coach and it’s hard for me to admit that, but we need to focus on our defense more. We plan on opening it up on offense, but when you get to the tournament, the defensives tighten up and you have to grind out wins. We had a hard time doing that at times last year.”

Williams, who averaged 14.5 points-per-game in the six games he played before injuring his knee last season will provide a boost to a team that averaged 65 ppg without him. Madison Courier Player of the Year Foster Mefford picked up the slack and led the area in scoring at 21.3 ppg while Austin Kramer averaged 13.5, Billy Eccles chipped in 11.4 and Zach Cole 10.4 ppg. Williams, Mefford and Kramer will all be seniors while Eccles and Cole will be juniors.

Nussbaum said that he is confident that the coaching staff to remain essentially intact, although nothing is official yet. He also said that he has no plans to stop coaching his other sports now that he’s in charge of basketball.

“The plan right now is to coach all three and we’ll see how it goes,” Nussbaum said. “My wife (Stephanie) is my assistant in track and cross country and I wouldn’t be able to do this without her. She’s a great assistant coach and would rather be the assistant coach, so I think it’s best for our family that I stay the head coach,” he added with a laugh.

“We’re excited to have Zac in this position. There was never a doubt in my mind that he can be successful,” Scroggins said. “When you look at the success that he has had in the other sports, there is no question that he will do a good job. He’s always been a basketball coach coaching track and cross country and now he gets to coach basketball too.”

In addition to the hiring of Nussbaum, the school also extended the contract of girls basketball coach Devin Brierly, who has gone 34-41 in three seasons. Both coaches received two-year deals.