Former Greybull coach inducted into Hall of Fame

Nathan Oster

From Manderson-Hyattville High School to the National High School Athletic Coaches Association (NHSACA) Hall of Fame, with stops in Basin, Greybull and Wright along the way, it's been a crazy but wonderful 37-year ride for Pat Neely.


The coach who spent seven years teaching and coaching at Greybull High School and led the school to its first state boys basketball title in 1996 relished his Hall of Fame moment July 28 in Lincoln, Neb., when he was one of two Wyoming coaches enshrined in this year's class.  Mark Miessler of Gillette was the other.


"Greybull gave me my first chance as a coach and I'm very grateful," Neely said in an interview earlier this week. " Everyone thinks they're ready for that first head coaching job, but until you're put in that spot, you don't realize there's a lot more to coaching that just Xs and Os of basketball."


Neely's coaching education actually while attending the University of Wyoming; he was an assistant on the staff of longtime Laramie High School girls basketball coach Paul Street. It continued in Basin, where he student-taught for a year and caught the attention of Dan Close, the Greybull activities director who was looking to replace Tim Nolan.


"He asked if I'd be interested and I jumped at the chance," said Neely.


That first season, 1990-91, was a special one.  Neely has fond memories of coaching Chris Harris, Jeff Stevens and Deuane Horton, who were core members of that squad.  A win over a Ralph Winland-coached team was among the highlights of his first season, which ended in a state tournament appearance.


Neely said he emphasized participation in summer camps and clinics and fought to have Worland, Powell and Cody put on the schedule, believing his teams would benefit from a rugged nonconference schedule. One year, his Buffs nearly pulled an upset, losing to No. 1 ranked Cody team by a single point. "It was about belief in our kids, knowing that they could compete with them if given the chance," he said.


Neely's final three years at GHS were his best ones.  Loaded with talent and driven by their coach to succeed, the Buffs placed second at state in 1995, won it all in 1996 their "twin towers" Mike Koller and Brett Keisel and a strong supporting cast, and placed third in 1997. Their quest to repeat ended in the semifinals, with a loss to Wyoming Indian.  


"You hate to elevate different classes, because they're all different, but looking back on that 1996 team, to have two 6-6 kids in a town the size of Greybull is pretty rare.  Even more rare, is to have so many other kids buy in, accept their roles, not being jealous. As good as (Brett and Mike) were, they made each other better and they made us better."


The Buffs returned to Casper the next year, thinking repeat, but were derailed in the semis by the Chiefs.  Keisel encountered foul trouble in that one, spending all but about five minutes of the second half on the bench. The Buffs went on to win the third-place game, beating Pinedale in overtime.  It was Neely's last game on the Greybull bench.


As he looks back on his seven years in Greybull, he is quick to credit not only Close but also Ken Jensen, Earl Jensen and the late Mike Meredith, all of whom helped him navigate the coaching waters.


From Greybull, Neely moved to Wright High School, where he's spent the past 27 years. Last season, he coached in his 800th game.  Wright won back-to-back state titles in 2004 and 2005 and has been on a nice  run of late, qualifying for state in three of the past four seasons and capturing fifth each time.


"We haven't figured that first round game out yet," he laughed. "But we're undefeated on Fridays and Saturdays."


While he's had opportunities to pursue jobs at larger schools, Neely said he prefers the challenge of coaching in small schools "where you don't have five great players to put on the floor every year" and have to mold what you have into a team.


He doesn't feel like he's lost any of his intensity and still demands a lot from his players. "I think everyone wants discipline in their life. There's a saying, you discipline to teach and not to punish.  A lot of players don't get that at first.  But later they realize.  It wasn't to punish, it was to establish good habits that will last and serve them well for a lifetime."


The last couple of seasons, Pat's coached his youngest son, Jax.  Their most prolific 3-point shooter, he's averaged 12.6 points per game. 

Neely said he doesn't know when he's going to retire — he jokes that he's signed 37 one-year contracts. "If they wanted to get rid of me, they could," he laughed.  "But I really enjoy what I do and have a great thing going at Wright."


He's come a long way from being one of 14 graduates in the Manderson-Hyattville High School Class of 1982.  One of his greatest influences in those years was John Tate, a teacher at the school he credits for setting him on a positive path.


These days, he credits much of his success to his wife, Stephanie. "She's been very supportive — some people say she's a saint for putting up with me.  We have two boys who are very different.  Jackson excels in sports, Cooper is autistic. I think that's helped me grow as a person, even though my wife is the success story there, too. She can always figure things out when I can't."