NORFOLK — Like most coaches, Rich Nagy remembers the losses more vividly than the wins. One victory, however, was particularly sweet.
Nagy, Old Dominion's new defensive coordinator, held the same position at Maine when the Black Bears upset Mississippi State of the Southeastern Conference 9-7 in Starkville on Sept. 18, 2004.
"It was without a doubt the biggest coaching win of my career," Nagy said, "from the standpoint of, we're going to an SEC school and on paper have no business playing them. But yet we're able to come out with a win."
Nagy's offensive colleague that day, and for several seasons, was present ODU head coach Bobby Wilder. Their time working together — they have known each other for almost 25 years — and the success that Nagy had as his career unfolded appealed to Wilder as he looked for a defensive coordinator.
"Rich and I have a real comfort level working together in all facets of the job," Wilder said, "whether it's the recruiting aspect or the development aspect — as it pertains to evaluating high school players, as it pertains to academic development for individual kids. Game planning, game day management and adjustments."
Nagy was a running back at Trinity College who began coaching defense at his alma mater just after his playing career ended. His college coach put him on the other side of the ball so that he wouldn't be a distraction for his old offensive teammates. He has been a defensive coach since.
"It's a challenge and I really like the challenges of coaching defense," he said.
No challenge was bigger than Mississippi State, which had NFL prospects and all of the advantages of SEC and Division I-A membership. The Black Bears held MSU to one first-quarter touchdown and came up with three red-zone turnovers. The upset was voted the No. 1 moment in Black Bears' football history, more significant than conference titles and playoff wins.
"If you're going to pull off upsets like that," Wilder said, "you need to have some good fortune, but you need to have some good coaching, as well. I always felt that way about Rich, that there was always an ability to put together a good plan based on the talent he has to work with and then make in-game adjustments based on what's happening."
Nagy relishes the chance to reunite with men he knows — Monarchs' quarterbacks coach Ron Whitcomb was the Maine quarterback against Mississippi State — and to be a part of ODU's transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision.
He knows that ODU's schedule this season, a mashup of established FBS opponents and some overmatched FCS teams, makes evaluating difficult. But there are plenty of lessons from that September day in Starkville, Miss.
"We're going to measure on a week-to-week basis, a play-to-play basis," Nagy said. "The thing that I talk to the players about all the time is just their effort level and their ability to compete. Really, those are the biggest two things we want to measure. Are we competing every play? We have to compete every play to win, regardless of the opponent.
"It doesn't matter if it's East Carolina, Maryland, North Carolina, Howard, it doesn't matter. The expectations, play to play, aren't going to change. That's one thing we're starting to realize."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun