New Georgia head coach, Joni Crenshaw, talks about her euphoria of being the next leader of the Bulldogs — and her vision going forward.
Swish Appeal: What were your feelings when you were told you would be the next head coach at Georgia?
Joni Crenshaw: “Pretty overwhelmed. I was speechless. So (Deputy Director of Athletics) Carla (Williams) calls me and said, ‘Can you come meet with (Director of Athletics) Greg (McGarity) and I at his office?’ And I said ‘Sure.’ My first thought was, ‘Surely they’re not going to call me up here and tell me that I don’t have a job, so surely this is a good sign.’
“At the same time, I still did not know because they play things very close to the vest, as I personally think it should be. But also, in the back of my head I thought, ‘We do have a good relationship and they may feel like they owe me a face-to-face explanation.
“So the whole drive there I’m thinking I don’t know if this is good or bad. The anticipation of that moment was the longest 10-15 minutes I’ve had in a long time. When Greg finally said, ‘We want you here as head coach,’ it was a lot of tears and excitement.
“Your head starts spinning because you know the process goes pretty quickly. I started thinking I need to call my mom, my dad, my fiancé (USC assistant Darius Taylor), I need to have a team meeting. So immediately, you’re listening to them, but you’re also thinking about all these other things that you’ve kind of had in your mind, but you don’t really want to take yourself there until you know for sure.”
SA: How did the players react when they found out you were going to be their next coach?
JC: “They were really excited. I recruited a lot of them and built relationships with them throughout the years; a lot of them jumped up and down, they screamed, some of them picked me up, you know how it goes.
“It was excitement all the way around, and honestly that’s a great feeling to know that you have their support. They were so good during the transition period, just doing everything we asked of them and really moving business as normal in terms of academics, on the floor workouts, and in the weight room. When you see their reaction it just makes it all the more worthwhile.”
SA: Your relationship with Coach Andy Landers is very well-known, how do you feel learning under his stewardship and knowing that he is a big believer in you?
JC: “I have had an opportunity that a lot of people don’t get, and I recognize that. I tried every day working with him and for him not to let him down. My biggest thing is, I don’t want to disappoint. I have been like that since I was a kid, I never wanted to disappoint my parents, my teachers, my friends.
“That really drives me and fuels me. As I realized, as an assistant, the responsibility he was giving me as an assistant and the things he was trusting me with…he respected my opinion and ability to make decisions about the program.
“I have realized from talking to other colleagues that everybody is not that fortunate and I wanted to take advantage of it. At the same time, I always wanted to continue to put my best foot forward and do my best for him.”
SA: How do you feel that you are going to put your stamp on Georgia women’s basketball?
JC: “I think I’m a no-nonsense person, I think I am a player’s coach and that they can relate to me, I think I am a role-model for them. The first thing you have to have is credibility and I’ve played in the SEC at a high level, I’ve been in this conference for several years and I’ve coached for 13.
“So I have the credibility, but after that you have to earn their trust. Once you do those two things, the rest kind of falls in place. Those two things have always been great assets for me and I think they know that I’m fair.
“As long as they can trust you and they know that you’re fair, then that works really well for you and that’s been a huge part of my success. I’m fair and I can relate to them on a player level and they know, we’re going to hard work, but we’re also going to play hard and they can continue to communicate their needs to me as well.”
SA: In your tenure as head coach now, do you feel like you will radically depart from Coach Landers’ philosophies or do you feel more that you will simply build upon what is already in place?
JC: “Heck no, why would I do that? That means being a legend for 36 years means nothing. The reason why he was so successful is that he kept things simple. We didn’t have a lot of rules, we were pretty good players, but we were great people, and it should be a people-program first.
“So we will continue to do that. It’s going to be slightly tweaked, but overall you’re going to be seeing the same things that you’ve seen before, it’s just going to have a bit of a Joni snap to it.”
SA: Have you given any thought to the fact, that you are now only the second full-time head coach in the school’s history? What does that mean to you?
JC: “Yes and no. Obviously I know that, and there’s times where I’m like, ‘wow,’ but there’s times where it doesn’t faze me. I have been going on autopilot and adrenaline since the announcement. I was completely aware of it before though, realizing whoever was named would be only the second full-time coach in Georgia history, it’s incredible.
“I think it really just speaks to what Coach Landers has done not only in the community, but for Georgia as well. When I think about it, it’s exciting because I want to make to this a memorable year. I think we have the resources to do that and we have the talent in the state of Georgia and nationally to get those big players here. When I do stop and think about it, I get excited about how we can continue to uphold what Coach Landers did here.”
SA: What is your vision for Georgia women’s basketball going forward?
JC: “To put a good product on the floor. To have kids who represent themselves, their families, this university, and their communities. To have first-class players not only on the floor, but in the classroom and the community. We want to be visible and accessible to the public and our fans. We want to play hard.
“Like I said at the press conference, I don’t want to stand here and make predictions, even though we have some players who are already getting healthy, but I can promise you that we’re going to put a good product on the floor, we’re going to play extremely hard and we’re going to play good basketball.”
SA: Using this as a platform, what would you tell young kids coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, from small areas where they feel they don’t have a shot to achieve what you have?
JC: “Don’t be a product of your circumstances. It’s really true, everybody is dealt a different hand, but it’s not about the hand you’re dealt it’s about how you play it. Always put your best foot forward because you never know who will be in a position to help you.
“My position coach at Alabama ended up being the same person who gave me my first job. He got the job at Troy and hired me as the recruiting coordinator and then first assistant. If I had not proven myself to be reliable and responsible in college, someone that he could trust, then he would have never called me.
“He coached at that point for 16 years and when he had his first opportunity to coach at that level, he took a chance on me. I knew that, but that shows you that everything pays off. Even when you think it doesn’t matter, it does. Find a goal, be focused, and don’t let people steer you to the right or the left of what your goal is.”