Indiana Pacers Name BVU Alum Bjorkgren Head Coach

In becoming a head coach, Nate Bjorkgren continues a career path that has taken him from his days as a guard with the Beavers to the NBA title, one he earned as an assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors in 2019.

Buena Vista University graduate Nate Bjorkgren has been hired as head coach of the Indiana Pacers.

“We are very pleased and excited to have Nate as our new coach," Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard noted on the team’s website. “This was an extensive and thorough search, and when we reached the conclusion, we felt strongly Nate is the right coach for us at the right time. He comes from a winning background, has experienced championship success, is innovative and his communication skills along with his positivity are tremendous. We all look forward to a long, successful partnership in helping the Pacers move forward.”

“I am honored to take on the role as head coach of the Indiana Pacers,” Bjorkgren said on the team’s site. “This is something I have prepared for during my career. I want to thank Kevin, Chad (Buchanan), Kelly (Krauskopf), Larry Bird, Donnie Walsh, and Herb and Steve Simon for this opportunity. I also want to thank Nick Nurse for giving me my first professional coaching job 14 years ago.

“Throughout all of my stay at BVU, I had great experiences. I always expected to win, and BVU brought out that mentality even more.”

Nate Bjorkgren

"I'm looking forward to working with this great team to achieve our goal as NBA champions,” he added.

In becoming a head coach in the National Basketball Association, Bjorkgren continues a career path that has taken him from his days as a guard with the Beavers to the NBA title, one he earned as an assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors in 2019.

A drive to succeed, to make those around him better, has accompanied him every step of the way.

Bjorkgren, who led the Storm Lake Tornadoes as a senior in 1993 to a 17-4 mark, which represented the highest winning percentage for the program in four decades, helped his hometown Beavers break a 21-year title drought by winning the Iowa Conference Basketball Championship in 1997. 

The son of Storm Lake residents Keith and Pat Bjorkgren spent years learning his craft as a successful player, then as a coach, feeding his basketball passion at Siebens Fieldhouse early on, shooting baskets at halftime of Beavers games in which he served as ball boy. 

“Throughout all of my stay at BVU, I had great experiences,” he said of his time on the court with the Beavers. “I always expected to win, and BVU brought out that mentality even more.”

Following his BVU graduation in 1998, Bjorkgren taught and coached basketball at Linn-Mar and Sioux Central high schools. Big-city basketball aspirations prompted a move to Cave Creek, Ariz., where Bjorkgren coached high school basketball for five seasons, earning a Region Championship at Cactus Shadows High School, the team’s first in 20 years. He landed Arizona High School Coach of the Year accolades.

He then made an incredibly bold move by relocating to Des Moines to work as a volunteer assistant coach under Nurse, a native of Carroll who was then head coach of the Iowa Energy in the NBA’s Developmental League. Bjorkgren sacrificed a salary for one year in order to get into the professional ranks, spending a portion of that first season driving himself from Des Moines to cities such as Bismarck, N.Dak.; Tulsa, Okla.; and Sioux Falls, S.Dak., for league games.

“We had a Nissan Ultima at the time and Heidi would often join me on those drives,” he said with a laugh. “She’d have to buy a ticket to the get into the game as I helped coach.”

Bjorkgren coached with Nurse for four seasons in Des Moines, and together, they helped the Energy win a D-League crown in 2011.

Other coaching stops in the D-League followed, encompassing a head-turning head-coaching run that featured one league title, two title appearances, an NBA D-League record seven straight playoff berths, five divisional crowns, and the D-League Showcase Cup Championship.

The Phoenix Suns hired Bjorkgren as an assistant coach in 2015. He was with Toronto when Nurse became the Raptors’ head coach in 2018. Nurse tapped Bjorkgren to be an assistant, joining him on the bench, ultimately helping steer the club to its first NBA title.

“I’m so grateful to Coach Nurse, the Raptors organization, our fans, coaches, and, of course, our players,” Bjorkgren said shortly after joining his wife, Heidi, and their children, Kaylee and Jarrett, in a 2019 Raptors victory parade witnessed by 1.5 million people in Toronto.

The Raptors were eliminated by the Boston Celtics in a seven-game Eastern Conference semifinal series this season, one marked by 22 NBA teams completing the season by competing in a “bubble” in Orlando, Fla., far removed from hectic travel requirements that would have put team coaches, players, and staff at risk of contracting COVID-19. 

Shortly after the team ended its season, members of the Pacers front office interviewed Bjorkgren for their head coaching position.

In piloting the Pacers, Bjorkgren, 45, joins the late Jim Fanning as BVU alumni to serve as a head coach or manager in the National Basketball Association, the National Football League, or Major League Baseball. Fanning, a 1951 BVU graduate from Moneta, managed the Montreal Expos to the National League Championship Series in 1981.