On ESPN one night back in the ’80s, Dick Vitale named Nelson Catalina of Arkansas State as one of the hot young basketball coaches in America, sure to move up to a bigger job. Vitale probably said the same of Mike Newell at UALR, and if he didn’t, others did. But things didn’t work out as expected for either of the young lions.
Catalina was a tough, demanding coach, evidently — too much so for many of his players. In 1990, 13 of them skipped practice and threatened to quit school unless Catalina was removed as coach. He wasn’t and they didn’t, but player unrest continued and, it was said, hurt Catalina’s recruiting. The team continued to win for awhile, but the won-lost records weren’t as good as they’d been earlier, and attendance was declining. Catalina had his first and last losing season at ASU in 1995. He was fired in March of that year, replaced by an assistant coach, Dickie Nutt. Some ASU fans thought it improper for an assistant to take the job of the man who’d hired him. Even today, one can find ASU fans who liked Catalina and don’t like Nutt, and vice versa.
Catalina, 54, didn’t seek another coaching job — although, he says, opportunities were there. Instead, he went into the securities business, in partnership with friends. “So, far it’s worked out really well,” he says. He keeps up with Arkansas State in the newspapers, but attends very few games. During basketball season, he appears on a television show, talking basketball with former Razorback player Ernie Murry and Steve Sullivan of KATV, Channel 7. The show, “Sportsweek,” is seen at 10:30 p.m. on Sunday on Channel 7.
Catalina seems content to be out of coaching. But people are different. Of his old rival, former coach Catalina says, “Mike is an outstanding basketball coach. I know he’d like to get back into Division I.”
Yes. He would.