Clay Nagel has been named Coach of the Year 15 times in his coaching career, and was named State Coach of the Year in 1992. When winning a coaching award, Nagel said he hopes it says he impacted people’s lives for the better.
By Barbie Porter
Clay Nagel was nominated for the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Minnesota Chapter a few years ago. He didn’t make the cut, but just as he taught the many student athletes in high school and college wrestling—every moment is an opportunity.
Perseverance and dedication can overcome hurdles and clear a path to personal victories. Such was the case for 64-year-old Nagel as he recently collected another HOF nomination, and this time he got the call.
“The committee assigns a host for each inductee, and my friend was assigned to be my host,” Nagel said, adding the host also relays the good news. “When he sent a note asking me to call him, I thought it was to talk. I was surprised and that was pretty cool.”
In his 39th year of coaching wrestling, Nagel will be inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Minnesota Chapter with nine others at a banquet that is tentatively set to take place this spring.
Nagel grew up in Salem, N.D., but his first several years in his profession of teaching and coaching, was at Beach, N.D. Nagel started his career at the age of 25. He recalled his path to Frazee came about through his older brother Lee Nagel, who has always been his role model.
“He called and told me that Steve Carr had just resigned and they were looking for a phy. ed teacher and wrestling coach,” Nagel recalled. “He suggested I apply and just see what happens.”
Nagel added his brother was well aware of Frazee’s rich wrestling tradition and that the area was perfect for his brother’s hobby at the time of riding horses.
Nagel followed his brother’s advice and applied. When the school district called to offer him the job, Nagel declined.
“I hated the thought of leaving the community I was in,” he said. “A week later my wife said the opportunity in Frazee was really good, and it provided opportunity for our family.”
Nagel picked up the phone and called the Frazee superintendent to see if they would reconsider him for the position. The school board met and agreed to offer him the position a second time. This time Nagel accepted.
Nagel took the coaching experience he gained from working in Beach, N.D. and continued to pick the brain of his brothers for additional advice when struggling for ways to connect with an athlete to motivate them.
“My brother Lee said when you start in a new area be sure to give yourself four or five years,” Nagel recalled. “You can’t get the philosophy and ideals instilled in the kids overnight. He reminded me to be patient and to work hard and most importantly to not dwell on the negative.”
Of his 39 years coaching wrestling, 23 have been at Frazee. During that time he collected a record of 414-110-2. He motivated his teams to earn three state titles. He pushed his athletes to perform at their best, and 167 individual wrestlers were sent to compete at state. Of those, 35 were finalists and 20 state champions.
His coaching career also included jumping from high school to NCAA DIII college.
“It was a tough decision to go to Concordia,” he said. “I tell the athletes that I coached that when an opportunity comes to look at it so they don’t have regrets later. I took my advice.”
In 2004 Nagel became the Concordia College of Moorhead’s head wrestling coach. The program was floundering, but Nagel had a plan. While working with the USA Wresting Program he’d seen untapped talent struggle to find opportunity at the next level. From that insight he found driven talent to build the foundation of a revered program with national contenders.
Titles and athletic prowess are great, but Nagel is quick to point out that is not his biggest accomplishment at the collegiate level. Nagel stacks his bars of success on helping build a strong culture of future educators and coaches.
When Nagel stands to give his acceptance speech at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame event, his thoughts will be about faith, family, friends and other coaches he has worked beside.
“I believe God put people in my life to give me direction and to guide me,” Nagel said. “It is not about what you get, it is about what you give others.”
One person that has continually gave her all and allowed Nagel to spread his wings was his wife of 43 years, Lori.
The two have three adult children, two sons (Travis and Matt) and a daughter (Calli) and eight grandchildren.
Nagel said the early years when he and his wife struggled to make ends meet with kids at home, Lori provided support and encouragement that helped him soar professionally.
“It wasn’t easy when we started out,” he said. “She was a stay-at-home mom and never gave up as I was working my way through college. I know how fortunate I am to have her in my life.”
Nagel has retired from his educator position, and took a short break from wrestling. Now that his son Travis is the Hornet head coach, he has returned to the mat as an assistant.
“We’ve coached together before,” Nagel said. “Before he was the assistant, and now the roles are reversed.”
Nagel added he enjoys the assistant role as it allows him to sit back, watch his son and be overwhelmed sense of pride.
“He is far more organized than I ever was and is very good with the kids,” he said. “He has a passion for providing opportunities for kids, not just in wrestling but by helping them build life skills through sports. That is a proud feeling for a dad, to see your child do a good job and make a difference in people’s lives.”