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Austin Peay State University’s Carrie Daniels: Balancing work and family as a college head coach

APSU - Austin Peay State University SportsClarksville, TN – APSU women’s basketball coach Carrie Daniels is in her eighth season as the Lady Gov’s head coach, becoming the longest tenured women’s basketball coach the school has ever had.

Currently, her Lady Govs are fighting through their conference schedule, with their eye on making the OVC Tournament, where they’ll have a chance to make it to the “big dance.”

APSU Head Coach Carrie Daniels

While her won-loss record isn’t what she expected when she began her coaching career, Carrie Daniels is a winner. She gets her team to play hard, study hard, graduate, and become better women than they were when they showed up on campus. She runs a top-notch program where the focus is on her athletes and their education, and helping young women become better at everything they do.

Carrie Daniels is also a wife, and the mother of 10 year old Dalton Daniels. It’s not easy, but she makes it happen.

We spent some time with Coach Daniels prior to the Murray State game (which they won), and we talked about her program, and how she balances her responsibilities to her family, her team and herself.

When did you realize you wanted to be a coach?

“When I played here at Austin Peay, I experienced a medical condition that turned out to be a heart ailment, and had to have a medical red-shirt season. At the time, some high profile athletes like Reggie Lewis and Hank Gathers, had died from heart problems, and I was passing out, so I was concerned, my family was concerned, and once we determined what the problem was, I’ve been ok. Once I got my medications right, I was able to play, but that season of sitting on the sidelines, watching my teammates and not being able to play was hard. I decided during that year that I never wanted to leave the game and would do whatever I could to stay competitive. When you have something that means so much to you taken away, you realize how special it is. I was going to be a lawyer, but I changed my major because I knew that coaching was in my blood and this was what I was going to do.”

When you landed the head coaching position at Austin Peay, what did that mean to you?

“It was everything. I had played here, this was my school. I had been an assistant for ten years at the time, and I had been a part of so many different philosophies and coaching styles, I always knew what I thought was the way to go, so having that opportunity was special. I took the good and “not so good” from all those coaches and tried to put it to good use. To be coaching in the city where I played, where I met my husband and had my child is just real special to me. It’s like a dream come true.”

What’s the best part about being a head coach?

“Just seeing the look on these young women’s faces when they win. Seeing them grow as a person. Knowing that there is more to life than playing basketball. These women are getting a great education and making plans to deal with life, and basketball is a small part of who they are and who they hope to be. When they come here, they belong to us. Their families trust us to take care of them and help them become better people, so it’s a huge responsibility that I take very seriously. These young women lean on us, we’re their family now, they’re away from home and it’s very rewarding to be a part of that process.”

What’s the worst part of being a head coach?

“Every single player that we recruit to come to Austin Peay has been a star on their high school team. When they get here, they’re not the star anymore. They’re part of a team of stars and they have to make the adjustment on how much they will play and what their role will be on this team. It’s difficult for a lot of them and their parents, if they’re not playing the whole game. It’s just not the way it is. There’s only so many minutes in a game and you can’t play everybody. Everybody has a role on the team, whether it’s getting the team prepared to win, or actually stepping up during the game to win, it’s always tough on coaches and especially the players to adjust to that. There are so many variables to coaching females, it’s a challenge. They have to understand that unless they separate themselves from the other players, it’s all about what’s best for the team.”

Carrie Daniels giving her team instructions during a recent game. (Michael Rios Clarksville Sports Network)
Carrie Daniels giving her team instructions during a recent game. (Michael Rios Clarksville Sports Network)

How hard is it to recruit in the Ohio Valley Conference?

“Well, we’re all trying to get the same players. Where we’re located, there are so many players that we all want. We’re looking for young women that are going to be a good fit for our team. Someone that will work well with our coaches and be a part of our program. It is so competitive, and I like the direction our conference is going, but it is a battle to find the right players for our program.”

Your overall won loss record is not what you were expecting when you got into coaching, and it’s certainly something that can change, but it’s always hanging out there, and players you are trying to recruit can see that and it may influence whether or not they come to Austin Peay. Does that bother you and do you worry about a society that judges us simply on winning and losing a game?

“It’s not anything that I hide behind whatsoever. I’m very open and honest about our won/loss record when I’m recruiting. I’m going to shoot them straight and be totally honest. It’s never anything I worry about. We certainly wouldn’t play the non-conference schedule we play if I was worried about my won/loss record. My concern is getting our team ready for conference play. Where do we need to be to win our conference. What teams can we play that will help us be better when it comes to our OVC schedule. I’ve never been a coach that wants a “cupcake” schedule. I tell recruits that we’re going to play a tough non-conference schedule and it is what it is. ”

“Now, on the flip-side, it’s not a won/loss record that I’m proud of, and we’ve played a lot of top 20 teams over the years, but I don’t dwell on it. We know that there are times that we’ve needed to play near perfect games to win and didn’t. There are times that we should have won and didn’t. We either didn’t close the game out, or had a bad night offensively, but that’s why they keep score and that’s why they play the game. I think our program is headed in the right direction, and these young women are getting the things they need to be successful here and when they graduate.”

The perception by some observers is that you play some teams that you have no chance of beating, but it’s a good payday and it’s a great experience for your team to play Louisville, or Vanderbilt, or whomever. Do you worry that when your team gets beat by fifty points or more, or it’s clear they can’t play at that level, that it might do more harm than good?

“We prepare our team the same way no matter who we play. We focus on our team and what our team needs to do to win the game. What do we do good, what do we need to do better. I don’t want them to get on the floor with Louisville and get so caught up in what they’re doing that they lose focus on what we need to do. In the end, it’s more about us and what we need to do to be successful. Our kids know who Louisville is. They know they were national runners-up. Our job is to prepare them for the game, make them believe in themselves and play the way we ask them to play.”

“I will admit that I have been pretty aggressive in our non-conference schedule and in an effort to be so prepared for our own conference, I may have gone too far at times. I’m not afraid to admit that. But it’s something that we’re always looking at and evaluating for future games. It’s so important for us to win our conference tournament, that most teams will do whatever it takes to be prepared to win it.”

“I think games like the Louisville game depends on the individual. I never imagined that this team would suffer through a ten-game losing streak, but they did. They then turned around and won four in a row, so I think it depends on the person. This is the big time. This is college basketball. Athletes need to work through the losses to appreciate the victories. We understand as coaches that there is a balance that we need to maintain so it doesn’t get too overwhelming, but I’m so proud of this team for how they’ve battled back. They have worked hard and continue to work hard, and that’s all we can ask of them.”

Your team recently went on a four-game win streak, which had to be a special time for you. Tell me about that?

“My staff and I knew that this team was getting close to being able to win some games. This is a very young team. Most of them are just out of high school. I think the UT Martin game is where a light went off in their heads that they could compete. They were hanging with the conference champs. They knew they could do it. So I think that game was a real turn-around for us that helped us get on a hot streak. Then we went to Murray State and competed on a different level. We led that game for a while, and you could just see that they were gaining confidence. When we got to Morehead, I sat them down and showed them their stats and explained that they were in the upper half of the conference in all of these categories and they looked at me like, “Huh. I never thought of it like that.” That’s when we got on that win streak. When they looked at their game in a different way. It’s all about taking that attitude to the court and not letting the other team take that away from you.”

How difficult is it to be a head coach, a wife, a mother, a recruiter all in one. How do you juggle all of those responsibilities and keep somewhat of a normal life?

“Well, I have a husband who understands my job, understands the game and the demands of it. Billy played college ball, he played here at Austin Peay, so he knows what the environment is like. He supports me, he respects me and what I do. I respect and support him in what he does (firefighter), so first and foremost that’s what’s important. I have the support of Austin Peay who supports our families, so I’m able to pick up my son (Dalton) from school, and he hangs out in my office, or watches practice, so that’s good. He feels like he has 14 big sisters here, and I have a staff that helps out, so that makes it easy for us to do our jobs. We’re really blessed in that regard. Having the support of friends makes it work. There is a balance that you try to achieve, and we’re always working on that.”

Carrie Daniels giving instuctions to senior Nicole Olszewski during an APSU Lady Govs game at the Dunn Center.
Carrie Daniels giving instuctions to senior Nicole Olszewski during an APSU Lady Govs game at the Dunn Center.

Dave Loos recently stepped down as Athletic Director at Austin Peay. How are you and Derek van der Merwe getting along, and has he indicated to you that he’s concerned about your program and you need to win more games, or has he been supportive of where your program is going?

“He has been very supportive of our program and we get along really well. He hasn’t come in here and announced any massive overhauls, or major changes at the school. He’s been trying to get adjusted to being here and learning where we’ve been, and where we need to be. Everything’s been great. He’s been great to work with. We both share the same desire to win, but he hasn’t come in and given any ultimatums to anyone about what we’re doing. I’ve enjoyed getting to know him and work with him and I look forward to seeing what the future holds. He’s been interested in working with each and every coach here and to learn what our goals are and what we are trying to accomplish. He wants us all to work together. We’ve been working on a strategic plan for the university and I think in the spring, we’ll all get together and see where we are.”

How much of a challenge is it to relate to young women today. Things have changed sine you were that age, playing college basketball and everything. Is it getting more difficult to do that today?

“Well, it’s definitely different. Kids are different these days. They don’t want to talk they want to “text.” The technology is different and they’re exposed to so much more than when I was that age.”

“It starts on the recruiting trail. Recruiting the kids we want here, in this program, to get where we want to be. We have to have talent. We need to know their families. We have to know that they’re going to be able to play for us and work with our coaching staff. It’s a challenge and I think we’re getting there, but you have to stay on your toes with that generation so you can get through to them and make them better.”

How hard is it to not be coach Daniels when you get home? Can you leave your work at the office, or do you take it home with you?

“Well, sometimes it’s pretty hard, but my husband Billy is so much a part of this too, that even if I wanted to leave my work at the office, he still wants to talk about it. He loves the team and will come up here and watch practice and talk to the players, so even if I just want to come home and not talk about work, he will bring it up and want to discuss it. I guess it’s why we’re married because we both played and love the game, so it works out. Even our son Dalton wants to talk about it, talk about the players, so my job is my life, and we love it and wouldn’t have it any other way.”

What is it going to take to get people to buy into Lady Govs basketball and come to the games and show their support.

“We have to win and win with passion. We have to have a good product and a competitive team to come watch. It’s more and more difficult to do that each year because of money, or recruiting, or NCAA rules or whatever the challenge, but fans need to see that we’re playing hard, playing with passion and a desire to be the best and play hard. It means a lot to these young women to see fans in the stands supporting their hard work and that’s what we strive for.”

Hank Bonecutter
Hank Bonecutterhttp://www.clarksvillesmotorcycle.com/
Hank Bonecutter is a retired broadcaster and media consultant based in Clarksville, Tennessee. His career includes stints at WKDA/WKDF and WKQB Rock 106FM, WLAC-AM in Nashville. He concluded his career as owner/talk show host at WJZM-AM in Clarksville. Currently the President of Bonehead Promotions, he's an advertising consultant and media strategist. An avid motorcyclist, Hank blogs about his travels exclusively at www.clarksvillemotorcycle.com and www.clarksvilleonline.com You can follow Hank on on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/dodgintheroadkill/, on Twitter at https://twitter.com/?lang=en, and Instagram https://www.instagram.com/dodgetheroadkill/?hl=en  

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