Then IU basketball was turned upside down.
“I called my mom and said, ‘They fired Coach Knight, I’m coming home,’ ” Byall said.
Byall’s emotions calmed, he stayed in school and went on to be a student manager under Knight’s successor, Mike Davis. During that time, he was part of the 2002 run to the national championship game.
If anyone knows about transitions in coaching, and following a highly successful coach, it’s Byall.
His job in moving from assistant coach to head coach and replacing Steve Sotir at Homestead this spring is far different than that IU change, of course. Sotir, like Byall, is a likable, calm, analytical coach who cultivates strong fundamentals and team-first chemistry. And there was no controversial change, as Sotir left for a new position running a baseball complex and academy in Texas.
But it’s still a challenge to step in after Sotir’s successful eight-year run that included a 165-60 record, six sectional titles, three regional titles and one semistate title.
“Steve was always big on ‘This is our philosophy, this is the team’s philosophy,’ and on a lot of stuff he and I saw eye-to-eye with and agreed with,” Byall said. “There have not been many changes, and that’s helped with the transition, knowing the expectations on a day-to-day basis.”
Byall, 34, a United States history and government teacher, was an assistant coach at Homestead for 10 years – the first two seasons under Keith Potter and the last eight under Sotir.
Byall’s school roots go even deeper, though, as he played baseball at Homestead.
This year’s team has nine seniors, and their familiarity with Byall has helped with the transition. The Spartans opened the season 2-2 as they fight the typical early-season weather.
“It’s different to see (Byall) in a different role, but last year and the years before he’s been a leader for all of us,” senior Brady Sheehan said. “Now that he’s the head honcho, it’s kind of nice. I like it.”
Senior Alex Bradtmiller agrees.
“He’s a little more laid back, but it’s no different,” Bradtmiller said. “We still have to take him seriously just like we did Sotir. He knows what he’s doing, he’s been around the game so long. He brings a lot of game action into the practices and everything. He gets us ready.”
Byall said one of the biggest transitions is changing from the “go-to” assistant coach for players to the buck-stops-here head coach.
“I’m a pretty laid-back guy, and Steve is the same way, we’re not yellers and screamers,” Byall said. “But there are certain discipline things we want to happen and they guys know that, and they try to work through that.”
Not many people knew, but Byall was already involved in putting together lineups and other strategic approaches, courtesy of Sotir’s style of working as a coaching team.
The biggest change has come in the administrative side, where Byall has found out the paperwork – or at least digital work – that comes with the job. He had an additional challenge this year since Homestead is no longer part of a conference. While the football and basketball teams are in the Summit Athletic Conference, the other sports are independent for now.
“I feel bad for the kids because it doesn’t give them an opportunity to play for a (regular-season) championship or be all-conference, those type of things,” Byall said. “But, as far as the focus, we’re still striving to keep getting better and ready for sectional.”
Byall was a natural candidate to replace Sotir, and the continuity within the program is bound to be one of the biggest pluses in the change.
“Steve did an awesome job of making his assistants feel like it was a co-coaching kind of staff,” Byall said. “In the back of my mind, I always thought if I had the opportunity, I think I could do it. But I wasn’t in a hurry to push Steve out. He would always joke, ‘Tell me when you want the job and I’ll walk away.’ I always said, “I enjoy having your around too much.’ ”
Sotir and Byall continue to communicate regularly, with Sotir mentioning how much he misses Homestead baseball, except for the weather.
Byall’s staff includes assistant varsity coach Shawn Harkness and several others, including volunteers Maurie and Rosi Byall, Nick's parents.
“We joke about nepotism, but they’ve been helping out for a long time,” Nick Byall said.
Homestead baseball has a new coach, but the Spartans have clearly kept it in the family in every sense of the word.