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Prep boys basketball: Devney at home coaching Denfeld

News Tribune file photo Former Esko coach Mike Devney talks to the media about his 500th career victory after the Eskomos won the 2018 Section 7AA boys basketball title game. Devney was hired Tuesday as Duluth Denfeld coach.

Mike Devney won't have far to travel to start his new job as Duluth Denfeld boys basketball coach.

Devney, the Northland's winningest active boys basketball coach, has been teaching economics for 20-plus years at Denfeld so he's quite familiar where the school's gymnasium is located.

Devney, 60, was officially named Denfeld's coach Tuesday, replacing Jeff Nace, who stepped down two months ago due to health reasons after 24 seasons at the helm.

"I feel terrible for Jeff," Devney said. "I was sure he was going to coach another three or four years so I had given up on the idea of ever coaching at Denfeld and was going to look elsewhere."

Devney's contract at Esko was not renewed last winter after 19 seasons coaching the Eskomos. After negotiating his departure — Esko originally sought to sever ties after the 2016-17 season — Devney led the Eskomos to their eighth state tournament appearance during his tenure. Esko lost in triple overtime to St. Cloud Cathedral in the Class AA quarterfinals before winning their next two games to finish fifth and give Devney 502 career victories.

His highlights include a 2014 state title with the Eskomos and a Class A runner-up finish at Carlton in 1998.

Now he takes over a team that went 19-8 a year ago — including two losses to Esko. In addition, the Hunters' junior varsity handed the Eskomos' JV its only loss in 2017-18.

"I'm very happy and honored and looking forward to it," said Devney, who splits his time teaching between Denfeld and Duluth East. "There's lots of talent there and some kids who want to play. I have a lot of friends I taught with and worked with in the administration at the faculty level who want to help out, so I'm excited about it."

Devney says the key to his success has been developing talent during the offseason, especially making sure players work on their ballhandling and shooting.

"The best coaches who I've gone up against have been guys who work on their program year-round," he said.

That means Devney will need to change his travel plans. Thinking he no longer was going to coach during the winter, he planned on golfing in Florida and Arizona over winter break. But there's no place he'd rather be than in the gym.

"That's all I've ever done. My life is teaching and coaching," he said. "I don't know what I would do if I had to come home every day at 4 o'clock."

Though bothered by shoulder problems, Devney said he hopes to be on the bench until at least age 65.

"I told them at the interview that if everything goes well and my health holds up, I'll give them at least five years. There's guys out there coaching until they are 70," he said. "I'm not going to go that long, though. I can't imagine myself on the bench with a drool cup and a walker.

"But I'm going to do it as long as I'm healthy and still connect with the kids and as long as people want you around and you are doing a good job. If I lose my mojo, I'll get out. I'll be the first to admit that."

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