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Nagel comes home to coach Hornets

The circle for Clay Nagel’s prosperous wrestling coaching career has been completed.

Nagel returns where he made a name for himself as a wrestling head coach, by accepting the Frazee position last Monday.

It comes after a successful 10-year head coaching career at Concordia College, where he helped rebuild a Cobber program back into national prominence.

But it was at Frazee where he coached for 17 years prior, aiding the Hornets to three state team championships and constructing the program into one of the best in the state of Minnesota on a consistent basis.

It’s not a move “back” for Nagel, but one where his heart still resided.

“I love Concordia, but a huge part of my heart is in Frazee,” Nagel said of his return. “It feels really good. I tell my athletes live your life with no regrets. Ten years ago when I left Frazee and with the job at Concordia opening up, I didn’t want to wake up as a 70 year old and regret not taking that opportunity.”

Nagel did take on the challenge of moving up to the college level and he proved he could handle it, plus more.

Under his tutelage, the Cobbers rose up in the rankings and by Nagel’s fifth year as head coach, Concordia was invited to the National Duals Tournament and finished 3-1 and as Consolation Champions, all that despite a No. 28 ranking in the nation.

The Cobbers maintained their consistency on the Division III level and last year Nagel aided Concordia to the National Duel’s finals.

Another key accomplishment Nagel felt was adding his son, Matt, to the coaching staff five years ago.

The opportunity to employ a five-time Minnesota state champion out of Frazee, along with All-American honors at the University of Minnesota, was a big opportunity for the Concordia wrestling program.

It didn’t hurt that Clay coached Matt during his time at Frazee and knew firsthand the intensity his son brings to the college ranks.

“Having Matt there is a big thing for Concordia, since he knows college wrestling after his time at the U of M,” Clay said.

After his five-year career for the Gophers, he was a U of M assistant coach, and eventually took the head coaching job at St. Michael-Albertville, a Class 3A powerhouse.

“But Matt missed the intensity of college level,” Clay said. “He is a not only a very good coach teaching the technical aspects, but he’s also good at dealing with the psychological aspect, as well.”

At Concordia, Matt was an assistant under Clay for two years, with the father-son duo becoming co-head coaches the next couple of seasons.

Last year was Matt’s first year as head coach, as Clay could leave knowing the program he built up was in good hands.

The opportunity to return home came when a physical education and truancy officer position opened at FHS.

It was a perfect calling for Clay to return to his roots and in March was hired on to fill those positions.

But coaching wrestling was still flowing through Nagel’s veins.

“I don’t retire, I’m never going to use that word,” Nagel laughed. “But I didn’t know I was going to be a head coach again, instead maybe an assistant or volunteer coach somewhere.”

The Frazee head wrestling coaching position then opened up late last spring, when the FHS School Board decided not to renew then head coach John Barlund’s coaching contract.

The decision to not renew Barlund’s contract was not elaborated on by members of the school board, but it did come after allegations and an impending investigation involving Barlund kicking a student during a Phy Ed class.

Barlund was ultimately suspended from his coaching and teaching duties during the Hornets’ state tournament run, but resumed his teaching job a week later.

With Barlund’s contract not being renewed, a coaching search ensued and Nagel’s name was an obvious one.

“I still feel I have a fire in my gut to coach,” Nagel said. “It’s a great opportunity to finish my career here.

“I just love to teach and coach. Getting back in the practice room, a lot of memories will come back. I will have to go back to my notes, practice plans and re-establish myself so the kids trust me and know that as a person, I have their back.”

Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.