Nichols’ Steady Hand Guides Copperheads< < Back to
By Luke O’Roark – Copperheads Staff Writer
When Copperheads’ Head Coach Jonathan Nichols was told a story was being written about him, he was startled.
“Oh, me?” He askedbefore cracking a quick smile.
That microcosm of a moment encapsulates Nichols perfectly: a reserved, humble, players’ coach who has led Southern Ohio to its seventh consecutive Great Lakes Summer Collegiate postseason berth.
Nichols demeanor is shared in part by his pitching coach, Austin Dunfee.
“I’m a pretty similiar guy as far as baseball mentality and off-the-field mentality as well,” Dunfee said. “So, we work really well together. He’s a good dude.”
Ask almost any Copperheads staffer their thoughts on Nichols and the positive adjectives start to pile up like a Steven Spielberg blockbuster hit.
Yet, Nichols mostly remains dormant, unseen, in the Copperheads’ dugout during games — until lumbering out at an unhurried pace to talk to his pitchers. Even when Dunfee and assistant coach Buddy Walker cheer and clap to the “Family Feud” theme song at home games, a staple of the trio’s friendship, Nichols hibernates.
On road trips, Nichols mostly keeps to himself — never rambunctiously causing a scene at the front of the team bus. Even during down time, when the coaches enjoy a few games of “Family Feud,” Nichols stays even-keel.
Why? Why cool and calm, not warm and ardent?
In truth, Nichols’ laid back approach to coaching is what has allowed the Copperheads’ organization to build a winning culture during this decade, going back to his days as an assistant coach with the team.
“Each kid you have to coach differently,” Nichols said. “So being able to adapt and have a different coaching style for whatever that kid needs is what I try to do.”
The nature of all three coaches — Nichols, Dunfee and Walker — conspires in fluidity to help pass down the knowledge they want their players to carry: “Baseball is a game of failure.”
Nichols said growing up he was a “heavy” kid who didn’t see much glory in football or contact sports. His dream was to play in the College World Series, yet that dream slipped away. He idolized Florida State baseball but was never given the opportunity to play for the Seminoles.
At UNC-Greensboro, where he graduated in 2006 with a degree in Information Systems and Human Resources, Nichols said it was an “eye-opening” experience to go from being the best player on his high school team to being surrounded by talent.
In his five years at UNC-G, Nichols relief pitched 100 innings and struck out 74 batters, posting a 7.47 ERA.
“I wasn’t mature enough when I got to college to handle it early on,” Nichols said. “One day I showed up and I was pretty good and then the next day, not so good. So it was a learning process for me and it helped me mature along the way.”
The failures, he felt, did not go in vain.
After not being drafted into the Major Leagues, Nichols found a niche, something even his past failures couldn’t take away: his ability to coach.
“He’s a good dude. I’ve been coaching 27 years … and I remember the first week that I was at Greensboro College practicing with him, I learned five or six things that I was like, ‘I never thought about that way. I never looked at it that way,’” Walker, who coaches at UNC-G with Nichols, said. “And the first thing (I thought) was, ‘God, he’s a young guy.’”
After his playing career ended, Nichols became the assistant coach at Charlotte Latin School in North Carolina before returning to UNC-G to join its coaching staff as a volunteer assistant. Similar to becoming UNC-Greensboro’s assistant coach, Nichols has moved up the Copperhead’s organization successfully.
First playing in the green and orange during the 2005 season, he joined Mike Florak’s coaching staff in 2010 before taking over the head coach’s position in 2013.
Since then, Nichols has lead the Cheads to a GLSCL finals appearance in 2014 and is the winningest coach in team history. He’s also helped a handful of former Cheads such Andrew Waszak and Seth Streich from Ohio University get drafted into the Major Leagues — one of Nichols ambitions growing up.
So even though Nichols’ baseball philosophy is the acceptance of “failure,” the game has never truly failed him.
“I got to the point in middle school where I didn’t want to play football anymore, so I just focused on baseball,” Nichols recollected. “I was able to play in college, get a scholarship to play in college, and to be able to coach now and give back my knowledge of the game to kids now — it’s a very fulfilling job.”
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