Updated: Dec 5, 2018
MediaGirl Anna Woodward sat down with the University of South Florida Women's Basketball Head Coach, Jose Fernandez, and the University of Oklahoma Women's Basketball Head Coach, Sherri Coale, for a Q&A at the Beyond the Baseline Tip-Off Celebration.
For photos from the event and game click here.
Woodward: “Well first off, it’s very nice to meet both of you, and I want to thank both of you for joining us today. I know that the crowd is very excited to hear what you have to say, so let’s just jump right into the questions. This is directed at both of you: you’re both very experienced coaches, you’ve [Coale] been a coach for 23 years, you’ve [Fernandez] been one for 19 years. What are some of the key ingredients to building and sustaining such a successful program?
Coale: “Well, I think that’s a really kind way of saying we’re both rather elderly, especially this one who’s having a birthday today. I think there are all kinds of, we could probably talk about this for half an hour, but first and foremost you create a culture among your team, a culture where players are coming to be about something greater than themselves, great emphasis on who you become, not just how you play, and as a coach, when you build an environment like that, obviously, it’s for life beyond basketball, there’s your catch with your tag, but it’s also, I think for coaches, if we are completely enamored with who wins the last game of the year, there will be one coach who feels fulfilled, and the rest of us will be struggling because there’s one team who wins at the end, it has to be more than about the outcome, I think that’s the way you sustain over time, is you make sure that it’s greater than the game.”
Fernandez: “Thank you for the birthday wishes. Entering my 19th year, I talk to the kids all the time and I know…the type of kids that we want to recruit or have to be champions in the classroom, in the community, and on the court…us coaches talk about culture all the time, and you can’t be successful on the floor without bringing great people in the program and that’s what we take pride in. Student-athletes just represent this university and this athletic department in such a great way.”
Woodward: “Thank you for that. My next question is directed at both of you again. You both believe that to be the best you have to play the best and beat the best. Can you talk to me about some of your philosophies including your scheduling and the matchups, such as this one?”
Fernandez: “I’m very thankful that we have a home and home schedule, it’s very difficult for us to get games like this. For us, we have to get…six, seven games and two tournaments every year out of our 14 non-conference games because we’re not in the football five conference, so I’m thankful for us starting this home and home. And other teams like Louisville and Ohio State, and LSU, Penn State, other big programs that reflect our program and want a quality RPI game. Because its games like this, and coach will talk about it, that will prepare you for January and February, for the conference tournament, and the NCAA tournament.”
Coale: “Yeah, I regularly have my sanity questioned by our local media for the type of schedule we put together. I think last year was the second toughest schedule in the country, and we have an incredibly young team this year. Pre-season media, everyone wanted to know, why is your schedule so tough, when you have such a young team? Well, there’s two reasons: number one, you schedule like three years in advance, so we didn’t do it last year when we knew what our recruiting class was going to be, but the other piece of that is we always want to prepare ourselves to win a Big 12 championship and to get into the NCAA tournament and win in the NCAA tournament, and the only way you’re going to do that is if you find out about your team. I liken it to this: if you buy a new car and you take it on a straight road, and you drive it on the highway for a while, you’re gonna get where you’re going, but you’re not really gonna know anything about the car. If you go on the backroads and you go up and down hills, and through tough terrain, you’re gonna know a lot about that car, I want to know a lot about our team. When January rolls around, and I want to know even more when March rolls around. Our conference is very, very tough and so we’ll get that challenge in January and February but prior to that, we want to know who we are, what our strengths are, what our weaknesses are, and how we can get better so we love to not only play teams that have been in the NCAA tournament, that are talented, but we really love to play great coaches. I want to play Jose because he does an unbelievable job on the floor, his offense, the way he structures things, his adjustments during the game, is much better for our team and for me, we grow through these experiences, they’re not always real fun, kind of like going to the dentists sometimes, but we will learn and grow as a result of being here.
Woodward: “I love how you worded that, thank you.”
Coale: “You’re welcome.”
Woodward: “Coach Coale, I heard that your team recently read to a preschool class prior to the Big 12 Media Day. Why is it so important to you to provide community service and social impact opportunities for your student-athletes?”
Coale: “Again, after 19 consecutive NCAA tournaments and three Final Fours, the things that we remember go far beyond what happens out there. The things that our players come back and talk about, remember that time we went to that school, remember that Christmas when we did that little skit in the children’s hospital? That’s the stuff that sticks with them and hopefully our desire is that when they finish their career at the University of Oklahoma, wherever they go, wherever they live, whatever community they become a part of, that they find an organization that speaks to their passion and they can continue that experience, so it’s incredibly important. I have to give the Big 12 Conference credit for the reading day, we had an unbelievably well-organized media day at a local school in Dallas that our conference has actually adopted, and so we got to read, my two players that were at Media Day with me, and I got to read to a little preschool class and they all had OU shirts on, and we taught them the OU chant, it was the cutest thing you’ve ever seen. We read books on fire safety, and they showed us how to stop, drop and roll, the whole thing, so it was fantastic and we loved that. Our players at Oklahoma are at elementary schools one day a week, every player adopts a classroom in the community of Norman…they go one hour a week on their own schedule, on their own time, and it lasts throughout the entire year, and what is great about that is there aren’t a lot, you know there’s 12 players on our roster, so there are 12 classrooms that are getting touched, so not every school in Norman can get touched, and certainly not every classroom at every school can, but the depths of those relationships in those classrooms where our kids are, I have a file of letters from parents and teachers alike, one in particular, Jose might remember, LaNeishea Caufield, who was on our 2002 National Runner Up team, a father of a student in the class sent me a letter and said his kid would never go to school, a second grader, never wanted to go to school, even ran away a couple of times waiting for the bus and all of a sudden he wanted to go to school every Wednesday and he couldn’t figure out why he always wanted to go to school on Wednesdays and finally he said, what is happening at school on Wednesday? And LaNeishea Caufield was visiting his classroom and turning his life around, so that’s why we do that, to get our players out there where they can make an impact and as much of an impact LaNeishea had on that kid, I think his impact on her was even greater. She’s a preschool teacher now and has three kids of her own, it’s awesome.”
Woodward: “That’s so sweet. So, Coach Fernandez, you’ve reached the NCAA tournament the last four years, almost equally as impressive is your off-court success. You have a 100% graduation rate and you’ve been awarded a perfect academic progress report by the NCAA. Can you talk to me about the importance of a student-athlete balance?”
Fernandez: “Well, I’m very thankful to have just incredible staff that does a great job recruiting…we’re very proud that we have engineering master Maria Jespersen, who was one of our seniors, and she was an engineering major, and she was an engineering student of the year for the University of South Florida, and we have doctors, lawyers, that’s what it’s all about. When you see our young ladies speak and do community service, and really get to know them and talk about their dreams and aspirations, because if you look at our team, we have kids from all over the world, but they’re here to get an education first, and they’re using basketball to get a free education, I couldn’t be prouder to be the head basketball coach and work with these talented young ladies day in and day out.”
Woodward: “And this one is directed to both of you again: like you said, your rosters have a lot of newcomers and very few upperclassmen. Some people might say you’re rebuilding your team, but I’d say it’s more of just reloading it. Can you talk to me about expectations you have for your young team, and what can fans expect from the teams today?”
Fernandez: “Well I told my boss, he came by practice the other day, I guess we’ll figure out how good a coach I am, losing an All-American…It’s not just about one player, it’s about the team. We lost two great seniors last year, Laia Flores and Maria Jespersen, we inserted Sydni Harvey into the lineup…our goals haven’t changed for this season. Heartfelt loss for Kit (Kitija Laksa), just devastating for the type of student athlete she is, she was Scholar Athlete of the Year last year with a 4.0 GPA, and she’s gonna come back better than ever, but our team goals haven’t changed, and we will keep moving forward. That’s what it’s all about.”
Coale: “We have seven freshmen, two seniors, three sophomores, and one of our starting sophomores is out as well with an injury, so I can relate at least to a certain extent there. We hate to see that in the game, unfortunately, it’s part of it. But as Jose said, the goals do not change. I said at our opening presentation, the very first time I introduced this year’s team, I said, obviously we are young. That’s the last time you’re gonna hear me say that, because what difference does it make? You know, I watch 13-year-olds go on The Voice and sing like crazy, I’m like, really? If they can do that, why can’t you go make a basket? That’s what I recruited you to do, so we understand that these are new experiences, one of my freshmen asked me before, while we were at the airport having a layover at Houston, ‘So how do we get from the airport to the hotel when we get there?’ and I said, ‘Well, we get on the bus.’ And she said, ‘We just find the bus?’ ‘there’s a charter bus we take, like one that took us to the airport in Oklahoma.’ So they don’t even know, this is all incredibly new for them. But that out there, it’s not new for them, they’ve been doing that since they were in the fifth grade. So the reason they came to Oklahoma is to win and go to the NCAA tournament and win there, and that’s what we expect to do.”
Woodward: “Well, thank you both for taking time out from your teams to stop by and chat with us, I hope personally to see both of you again April 5th at Amalie Arena, and how about we give a round of applause for these two amazing coaches?”