When UMBC athletic director Tim Hall introduced Johnetta Hayes as the ninth head women's basketball coach in Retrievers history, he ran through several qualities he was looking for during his search this spring. But perhaps none was more important than wanting someone who was a head coach at the Division I level -- preferably with a track record of success -- and someone who could foster strong relationships with players on and off the court.
After interviewing eight candidates, including two finalists who were brought on campus, Hall chose Hayes, the head coach at Texas Southern from 2013-2019. She posted a 115-73 record at the Houston-based school and led the Tigers to their first-ever NCAA Tournament in 2017.
While Hayes was putting the finishing touches on a successful tenure at Texas Southern, the UMBC women's basketball program was on a downward spiral. The Retrievers went 10-20 overall and 3-13 in the America East this past season. Former head coach Phil Stern took a leave of absence in December and resigned in February, with Carlee Dewey finishing out the season as the interim coach.
"Stability was one of the biggest factors that we were looking at," Hall said. "I think in any leader's tenure -- whether it's higher education, sports, profit, not-for-profit -- many times when there's a change you're looking for some things that may have been absent in the past. And I think the ability to build super, super strong relationships with the student-athletes is really important."
For a team that has gone 15-46 the past two years, a new culture and vision were necessary. Hayes could be the ideal fit to lead the charge, as she led a similarly challenging rebuilding project at Texas Southern. The Tigers went 5-26 the season before Hayes came aboard as the Tigers' associate head coach.
Texas Southern went 20-12 in 2012-13, then 20-13 in Hayes' first year as head coach in 2013-14. The first step to piloting a similar turnaround with the Retrievers is forming the relationships that Hall stressed, and Hayes said the summer will be critical in instilling a culture that will be ingrained by November.
"I don't know very much about the past. I just know about what we can accomplish together in the future and we're hitting the restart button," Hayes said. "But the cool part for me as a coach and for my staff is I am relationship based, and so stability shouldn't take very much time because we will spend time off the court. We will bond. We will create relationships that they want to be here and it becomes contagious. That will help the on-court part as well."
The cupboard isn't bare for Hayes; every player from UMBC's 2018-19 roster is scheduled to return. Rising junior forward Janee'a Summers averaged team highs in points per game (11.4) and rebounds (6.9). Rising seniors Te'yJah Oliver (11.2 points), Tyler Moore (7.1) and Dominika Skrocka (4.9) all figure to contribute again next year.
UMBC is also poised to add incoming freshman Lyric Swann, a guard out of Long Reach High School in Columbia, Md. Swann averaged 22.0 points as a senior for Long Reach and was named to
The Baltimore Sun's first-team All-Metro squad.
Hayes said she'll play with tempo but emphasize fundamental defensive principles first and foremost. The Retrievers were sixth in the nine-team America East in points allowed per game last year at 62.4.
"Getting up and down is great, but we also want to be able to play in a half-court set offensively and defensively," Hayes said. "But we will focus mostly on our defense. We will be defensively sound and based. We'll be very, very fundamental. I want these ladies to take on my personality. I joked with them about it earlier that I'm a little aggressive, so if you're soft-spoken it's OK to be aggressive on the court. Use your alter-ego and have some fun."
A native of Houston and graduate of Rice University, Hayes is a Texan through and through. But UMBC isn't her first job on the East Coast; she was an assistant at UNC Wilmington from 2010-2012.
She initially wondered whether her lack of background in the area may hurt her chances of landing the UMBC job, but she's confident in the connections she has in the area for recruiting purposes, something that's been reinforced since she was announced as the Retrievers' head coach April 26.
Hayes said she's had "so many calls in a matter of three days about, 'Come to the gym, we want you to see this person. When can you get out? Are you coming out this weekend?'"
"I feel very connected to the DMV area, more than I thought I was," she added, "so we're just excited to get moving past [April 29] so we can start working."
If all goes to plan, there'll be a lot to offer recruits in the future.
"There's going to be a new beginning here," Hall said. "I want someone who's going to delve deeper with these younger ladies and really create that culture where not only is there that sense of accountability, which I think certainly there was, but an environment where they knew that the coaching staff was behind them 100 percent and wanted nothing but the best for them."
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