Dan McHale is the second year head coach of Eastern Kentucky, just a 30 minute drive south of Lexington down the I-75.
The 36-year-old McHale got his start in coaching with the Kentucky Wildcats where he was the student manager from 1997-2001. McHale was part of the 1998 National Championship staff under Tubby Smith as well as being involved with four NCAA appearances and three SEC conference championships.
McHale came to the University of Kentucky from Chatham (NJ) strictly for the purpose of learning how to become a basketball coach and said, "That was the reason I went to Kentucky. It’s the most basketball rich state in the entire country."
He spoke of his initial visit to Lexington and a chance encounter that helped shape his life for the better, "I went down on my visit and Frank Vogel was the manager at the time, and he (too) was from New Jersey, and so we had a similar path. He told me that this is the place you want to go because this is the Mecca of college of basketball."
Vogel, of course, was recently hired to be the head coach of the Orlando Magic after an impressive six-year run with the Indiana Pacers that saw him win two division titles and take his team to the playoffs in five of his six seasons. McHale spoke of his early video room sessions alongside Vogel and said, "I didn’t know sitting in that video room in 1997 that Frank Vogel would be an NBA coach, and I’d be the head coach of a Division one school."
Following his graduation at UK, McHale was hired by Rick Pitino on his Louisville staff from 2001-03 and speaks of his mentor with great fondness saying, "I owe everything I have in my coaching career to Rick Pitino; he took a chance on me." He also said, "If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be the head coach of Eastern Kentucky."
McHale also held jobs as an assistant under Kevin Willard at Iona and then followed him when he was hired at Seton Hall. He and also spent two successful seasons at Minnesota under Richard Pitino before landing his first head coaching job at EKU.
The Eastern Kentucky Colonels made impressive strides under McHale going 15-16 during his first season and set a school record for points per game (80.5 PPG) which was 18th overall in the entire country. His squad is led by Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year Nick Mayo. The 6-9 forward started every game for the Colonels and was also First Team All-Conference and looks to improve on his 14.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game from last season. McHale said that he feels Mayo is an NBA level talent.
The Wildcats beat EKU 88-67 last December, but McHale said his opportunity to coach at Rupp Arena was simply "A Dream Come True." He is confident that his squad will make a vast improvement this season now that he has his culture established and has brought in a successful recruiting class.
He said, "Now I get to put my own stamp on the next branch of the (Rick Pitino) coaching tree."