New Washington women's coach Kevin McGuff: Big time, without the big attitude
By hiring Kevin McGuff, Washington athletic director Scott Woodward proves he cares about women's basketball.
Seattle Times staff columnist
Ta'Shia Phillips knew Kevin McGuff was watching her.
Actually, when McGuff first started scouting his post player of the future, she didn't know he was the women's basketball coach at Xavier.
Phillips only knew he was the coach who stood away from the others; the coach who stood out.
Later, after an All-American career at Xavier, Phillips would come to understand that unintended metaphor.
McGuff didn't preen in the gym. He didn't sit in the front row, swapping war stories with the other coaches.
He stood away from the crowd, leaning against a wall behind the baseline or sitting in the top row of the bleachers. He stood out.
"He was different," said Phillips. "I remember at first asking my AAU coach, 'Who is that guy who's comes to all my games and always stands by himself?' "
Washington athletic director Scott Woodward, who introduced McGuff as the new Huskies women's coach Tuesday, describes him as "a big-time coach who has a big-time view of women's basketball."
McGuff is big time, without the big attitude.
He likes to say that he lives in "Reality World."
College basketball isn't some amusement ride for him. This isn't Disneyland. It's serious business, and his approach is all business.
"Coach McGuff is a different type of coach in the way he interacts with his team," Phillips said by phone this week. "He gives us space, which allows us to grow as independent people. He tells us his door is always open, but he doesn't get all involved in our business."
Most college coaches are control freaks. They micromanage every detail of every day. They choreograph every offensive set, every defensive scheme.
Not McGuff. He's confident enough in himself, his system and his culture, confident enough in his ability to teach and coach that he is willing to delegate authority and responsibility to his players and assistant coaches.
"There aren't a lot of head games with Kevin," his former Xavier assistant Mike Neighbors said by phone from the women's Final Four in Indianapolis. "He's an extremely confident person. He's obviously in charge, but he doesn't micromanage.
"Roles are clearly defined. The expectations are clearly outlined. You never wonder. You always know why he made the decisions he made. It's a culture that he builds, and you'll see it pretty quickly up there."
At Tuesday's news conference, McGuff said he wants his players to create the program's identity.
"I care about what our players want to accomplish," he said. "The goals are going to be up to them. I want them to take ownership of what they want to accomplish next year."
McGuff is so clearly the right person to lead the foundering Washington women's program that it almost doesn't need to be said.
He won't light up a news conference with a lot of glib one-liners. He won't pirouette and plié on the sideline like John Calipari, but he is as solid as a Dwight Howard screen. And his teams play an entertaining, up-tempo, defense-first system that will be reminiscent, but not a replica, of Lorenzo Romar's men's program.
In his nine-years at Xavier, McGuff built a top-10 program. The Musketeers played in the postseason every year and made six trips to the NCAA tournament. The past two seasons, his teams have been undefeated in the Atlantic-10 Conference.
Normally an athletic director doesn't fly to meet a prospective coach. He makes the candidate come to him. But Woodward flew to Cincinnati to interview McGuff, not sure if all he would get from the trip were some frequent-flier miles.
"It was one of those weird situations where you just don't know how it's going to go," Woodward said. "You walk into a hotel conference room, and there's coffee and water, and I'm thinking, 'Am I going to like this guy? Am I wasting my time? Did I fly all the way to Cincinnati because I'm trying to be aggressive?'
"But I hit it off with this guy from moment one. Just 'boom.' I knew on paper that he could coach, but I just wanted to see if he had the vision that I wanted.
"Once I met him, I was clear that this guy could be a leader."
Anyone who might have questioned Woodward's commitment to Washington's women's basketball program has their answer.
There is no reason to believe McGuff's program can't have the same success as Romar's. No reason to believe that fans of the WNBA's Storm can't have a place to go watch quality women's hoops in the winter.
"You feel comfortable around him from the first second you're with him," Neighbors said. "He has this calming, confident effect on you. And it shows in the way the kids play for him. He'll allow you to make a mistake, as long as that mistake is made going at full speed."
It's been a long time since Washington cared about women's hoops, a long time since Edmundson Pavilion was as loud for the women as for the men.
Kevin McGuff can reawaken those echoes.
Kevin McGuff stands out.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
email@example.com | 206-464-2176
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