When Diane Richardson was introduced as Towson University’s new women’s basketball coach June 30, she really didn’t need an introduction.
Her resume was crowded with accomplishments and experience in this region, beginning with her own amateur athletic career that would have crested as a member of the United States track and field Team at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow if the U.S. had not pulled out of the games to protest the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.
Since then, she has taken no short cuts on her long journey to become a Division I head coach, but she did take a few detours.
Richardson, 58, ran one of the country’s dominant high school programs at Riverdale Baptist and served in assistant coaching roles at American University, Maryland, George Washington and, most recently, as recruiting coordinator for a West Virginia team that won the Big 12 Conference championship last year.
“I’ve waited a while,’’ she said, “and I’ve wanted to be a head coach and I’ve learned from some very, very good head coaches in the past and been fortunate to be on their staffs and learn so much from them. I think I’m prepared to move on now.”
So, it’s no surprise that she was an attractive candidate when Towson needed somebody to turn around its struggling program, but athletic director Tim Leonard said at Tuesday’s Greater Baltimore Basketball Media Day that she was not a slam dunk.
“I’m looking at resumes and we had some really good candidates,” Leonard said, “and she was in like the No. 2 spot, which is usually where you put probably your least favorite candidate going into this, because I didn’t know. I had only talked to her on the phone. But once she got here and I met her, when she walked out the door, I said, ‘That’s our basketball coach.’ She was unbelievable and I sit here thinking how close I came to screwing this thing up.”
Richardson obviously talked a good game, but she also brought with her a more varied background than some of the other candidates. She didn’t major in basketball or track at Frostburg State, where she got her degree in Management and then went on to get her MBA at Central Michigan. That resume also included time spent creating her own company and rising to the level of a vice president at Bank of America.
“I think one of the biggest things people have said is the reason I’m a good role model is because I’ve been there and I’ve done that,’’ Richardson said. “I’ve been to college on an athletic scholarship, so I understand that you’ve got to go out and get a job and so we talk about those things and I’ve lived that…I think that’s helpful to the girls.”
Leonard said Richardson’s business background resonated with him because he considers each of his coaches the CEO of their teams and no was more qualified to fill that kind of role on the coaching and management levels than her.
She has only been on the job for 2 ½ months, but Richardson will tell you that her business experience does dovetail with her coaching style and philosophy.
“I think so, because in the business world we’re all about efficiency,’’ she said Tuesday, “and so I try to be very efficient with my practices and with the total package for our student athletes. I’m big on the fact that basketball is not going to be here for life, so let’s prepare for basketball now but life later. I use a lot of those kinds of things with my student-athletes and working with them on the academic side as well.
“A lot of things come down to efficiency and I teach my girls that and they’ve become so disciplined and used to that. I think it’s going to help them out after basketball and after college.”
The Tigers have not played a game under Richardson yet and she has already used her corporate contacts to make a measurable and meaningful impact on the program.
“I’ve brought in some of my business colleagues in support of our program and we’ve instituted a new program called ‘Hoops and Heels’ where I have professional women who are supporters of our program and will act as mentors and come to games and all that. It’s a good way to incorporate business along with this program as well. I think we’ve increased the number of season ticket holders tremendously.”
Richardson wasn’t the only coach at the Greater Baltimore Basketball Media Day who was preparing to make a Division I head coaching debut this year. Former Maryland and NBA star Juan Dixon also comes to Coppin State with a wide range of basketball experience, but most of it was as a player. He served on Mark Turgeon’s staff at Maryland for three seasons before his contract was not renewed by Maryland last year.
“I think it all comes down to me living out my purpose which is giving back to these young men and helping them to develop,’’ Dixon said. “When it comes to me coaching, I’ve had a ton of basketball experience – not coaching, but playing and I’ve witnessed coach Turgeon run his program at a high level for three years. So along with myself and my assistants, we feel we’re well-equipped to run a program at a high level and to teach these young men what it’s like to be a high-level student-athlete and, most important, preparing them for life.
“We don’t have a ton of coaching experience, but we’re not focused on that all. We’re going to embrace this moment, this opportunity and take advantage every day.”
Second-year UMBC coach Ryan Odom, who grew up around college basketball as the son of long-time Wake Forest coach Dave Odom, showed in his first Division I season as a head coach last year that you can have success in a hurry.
The Retrievers went from seven victories in 2015-16 to 21, including three wins in the College Insider Tournament, in Odom’s first year, the team’s first winning season since 2007-08. He won the Joe B. Hall Award as the nation’s top first-year Division I head coach and gives his famous father some credit for helping develop quickly as a coach.
“The biggest thing is being honest with players,’’ Odom said. “In life, you’re not going to always get what you want, so you can’t sell the same thing to every kid, because they’re not all the same. There’s going to be a leading scorer on your team. There’s a reason why he’s the leading scorer. But there’s also got to be somebody else who’s got to do something for the team that’s going to be really important for the team to help the team win. If you can get guys to buy in and champion their roles, you’re going to have a much better chance to succeed, for sure.”
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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