Nate Austin just finished up his first season as the head coach at Grantsville High. It was his first head coaching job and he led the Cowboys to the 3A semifinals in March.
Nate Austin never thought he would go into coaching.
It didn’t occur to him as he starred at 5A power Lone Peak High School, where he earned first-team All-State honors and won a state title.
It didn’t occur to him during his four seasons at BYU, where he played in a school-record 153 games and blocked a shot against Kyle Wiltjer with two seconds remaining in an upset win over nationally ranked Gonzaga in 2016.
But in a twist of fate, Austin just finished up his first season as the head coach at Grantsville High School. It was his first head coaching job and he led the Cowboys to the 3A semifinals in March.
“I love working with the kids,” Austin said. “I get to see them on a daily basis and it’s great building those relationships and overcoming adversity, going through the highs and lows of the season.”
So how did the 6-foot-11 former Cougar wind up in coaching? And how did he end up in Grantsville (population: about 11,000), located about 11 miles west of Tooele?
Back to BYU
After finishing up his playing career in Provo and graduating in advertising, Austin had a lot of time on his hands as he looked for a job. One of his former coaches at Lone Peak invited him to help coach the sophomore team there. What he discovered was, he actually loved coaching.
Later, when he took a job at Disruptive Advertising, he continued to coach on a part-time basis.
“I asked my employer, ‘Hey, any way I can keep coaching on the side?’ They said, ‘If you get your work done, we’re pretty flexible.’”
Austin arranged his schedule by coming in early to work in order to be on the basketball court by mid-afternoon.
“It was a hectic lifestyle but it allowed me to keep coaching. I fell in love with coaching there. It was better than I ever thought it would be,” he said. “It’s funny because I told my wife and others that I would never be a coach. I never thought I would do it. I didn’t think I would like coaching at all.”
In 2018, a spot opened up in the BYU basketball program as a graduate assistant when Lee Cummard was promoted to an assistant coaching job.
“If you have an interest in coaching, be a GA,” Cummard told Austin. “You get your master’s paid for and you can see the day-in-the-life of a coach.”
Austin reached out to his former Lone Peak coach, Quincy Lewis, who was a BYU assistant at the time, and his former BYU coach, Dave Rose, who told him, “You’ll never know if you enjoy coaching unless you’re a coach.’”
When Austin was offered the grad assistant position, he had a decision to make.
“Do I stay at this ad agency and keep doing something that I like but maybe not completely passionate about?” Austin said. “My wife, Kim, and I were dating at the time. She had seen me coach at Lone Peak and she saw how much I loved it. It was my sanctuary. I always came home happy from coaching. She pushed me to go for it.”
Austin quit his advertising job, and pursued his master’s degree in advertising at BYU.
During those two years at BYU as a GA, he witnessed Rose’s final season and the remarkable inaugural campaign under Mark Pope that was cut short by COVID-19.
“Being a GA at BYU, I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity and a better experience,” Austin said, whose master’s thesis examined different coaching styles. “Being with coach Rose and coach Pope, two different staffs. Two incredible coaches. I feel so lucky to have those two years. I’m a better coach, and a better person, for having those two years.”
By the time he finished his degree at BYU, Austin knew he wanted to be a full-time coach. He applied for both high school and college jobs around the time the pandemic began.
To Austin, coaching in high school was intriguing but so was coaching on the college level.
When he found out about an opening for the head coaching job at Grantsville, Austin was hesitant to pursue a position at a 3A school.
“Initially, I didn’t apply for it. I wanted a 5A or 6A job and I wasn’t going to stoop down to anything lower than 5A or 6A,” he said. “Then I asked myself, ‘Why do I feel like I’m above these jobs?’ I decided to apply and got a call the next day.”
Austin interviewed in person, socially distanced, and was offered the job on the spot. He was in the running for other jobs at the time and was given a couple of weeks to talk it over with his wife and make a decision.
Eventually, he took the job.
“My wife had never been to Grantsville. When I told her about the job, she was like, ‘Where’s Grantsville?’” Austin said, laughing. “For me, it always felt right. We talked about it and my wife felt good about it. One thing that stood out — our athletic director and principal are from Grantsville. They are people who lived in Grantsville their whole lives, went away to college, yet they wanted to move back to Grantsville. That said a lot about how much of a family the community is.”
What was the state of the Grantsville program when Austin took the job?
From 2006-2015, the Cowboys suffered nine losing seasons. From 2016-2019, things improved as Grantsville enjoyed winning seasons every year but one. In 2019, Cowboys won just seven games.
“It’s a program that’s on the up-and-up but they’ve never been able to get over that hump. It’s had good players but they haven’t been good consistently,” Austin said. “We have good athletes. That’s one of the things that we’re trying to work on here — having a consistent program, a program that competes every year.”
A year before Austin grabbed the reins of the program, Grantsville was the No. 8 seed in the state tournament and finished fifth. There was a lot of instability, too. Austin became the team’s fourth head coach in three years.
“I feel a sense of loyalty to these kids,” he said. “They’ve had a lot of turnover, not a lot of stability. I want them to have a good high school experience.”
In its first two games of the season, Grantsville upset the preseason No. 1 and No. 2 teams in 3A. Suddenly, the Cowboys vaulted into the role of favorite.
“For me, having played at Lone Peak, it was something I was used to, having that target on our back,” Austin said. “But for a lot of these kids, they had never been No. 1 in anything, really. It was a little exhausting to have that target on our back all year long. But it was good for them to experience because obviously that’s what we want as a program. You want to be the best.”
Grantsville entered the 3A tournament as the top seed before falling in the semifinals to a San Juan team the Cowboys had beaten earlier in the season.
“It was a close, tough game, a game we could have won,” Austin said. “Overall it was a good year but we fell a little bit short. But I’m definitely proud of the year we had. It was a special year and a fun year.”
Grantsville finished with an 18-3 record.
“We’re losing a lot of players from this past year’s team. I told the guys coming back that we’re not rebuilding. The expectations are the exact same,” he said. “We were one game away from a state championship last year and the goal is to get right back there.”
‘I’m really happy here’
At first, the Austins weren’t planning to live in Grantsville — even as Nate took the head coaching job there. The plan was to live in Salt Lake City and commute.
But things changed.
“The first time my wife and I drove out to Grantsville, she said, ‘I can’t live here.’ She grew up in Utah County, where you have a Walmart and Costco 10 minutes away,” Austin said. “The longer we’re here, the more we love it. It’s gorgeous out here with stunning views. We got such a warm welcome. We truly love it here.”
The Austins built a house in Grantsville — they closed on it the day after Christmas.
The good feelings the Austins had about the job, and the community, were confirmed as the year progressed.
Of course, what Austin did in his rookie year as a head coach didn’t go unnoticed by the rest of the state. Jobs opened up and bigger schools reached out to him to gauge his interest in job openings.
Austin looked at those opportunities but he didn’t apply.
“I might not be at Grantsville forever. I might be. I’m really happy here. I’m not trying to leave for the first big job. We want to build something special here, a foundation for a good, consistent program,” he said. “The people have been great and so supportive. I could be here 20 years. There’s no plan. When other, bigger schools talked to me, it didn’t feel right. I’m happy where I’m at. They gave me my first real coaching opportunity here. I feel a sense of loyalty to these guys and I want to see it through.
“If I could get back to college, I might take the opportunity. I’m not saying I’d stay in high school forever. I also know once you’re in high school, it’s harder to make the jump back up to college. I’m not naive to that,” he added. “Working at Lone Peak, I loved that age group and time of life. I enjoy the relationships and being a mentor.”
So Austin, who never thought he would be a coach, is having the time of his life coaching at Grantsville High School.
“At first, I didn’t know how much I’d love coaching — ordering jerseys and T-shirts and camps and all that. All the different hats you have to wear as a high school head coach, I love it,” he said. “I love making the tough in-game decisions. The pressure that comes with it is worth it. It makes it fun. It makes the relationships with these kids worth it. I love everything about being a head coach at the high school level and Grantsville has given me the opportunity.”
As summer approaches, the Austins are already entrenched in the Grantsville community. He hosted a basketball camp for boys and girls kindergarten through 12th grade on June 14-17 . They’re looking forward to the big Fourth of July celebration that they’ll participate in and they’re looking forward to another successful campaign this winter.
“I can’t wait for next season,” Austin said.
No doubt, he feels right at home at Grantsville.