HUNTINGTON - After being introduced as Marshall’s new women’s basketball coach on May 29, Matt Daniel has had a whirlwind summer. He made the move to Huntington, assembled his staff, hit the road recruiting and started the process of meeting a lot of people on and off campus.
But NCAA rules limit the amount of time he got to spend with the group he most wanted to get to know – his team.
Now that the fall semester has begun, even though there are still restraints on how much time Daniel can spend in practice and conditioning workouts, at least the team is all in one place and he his staff can finally get to know them better.
“One of the big challenges is getting to know the players personally, on an individual level,” Daniel said. “When you get in as late as we did, and with rules limiting time you can spend with them in the offseason, that’s not an easy thing to do.
“In those limited hours we have with them at this time of year, we’re trying to accomplish so many things that we have to be careful and make ourselves limit what we do so it’s not overwhelming.”
As his team becomes acquainted with Daniel and his staff, the coach has made sure they realize there’s a new sheriff in town.
“What we’re trying to do here is change the environment and change the mentality,” said Daniel, who replaced Royce Chadwick, the Herd coach of 11 seasons. “Sometimes that’s an uphill battle, but it’s a something we’re instilling early and often and hopefully it will pay off in the end.
“We’ve changed everything that we can change in order to set the tone that it’s a different time now. Some of the apparel was already ordered and we couldn’t change that, but we’ve changed the offices, the way things look, the way they feel – we needed to establish every way we could that this isn’t like it was before.”
Daniel is also trying to make up for lost time, and points out that much responsibility falls on the players themselves.
“In that transition time between coaching staffs, there was a gap where they didn’t do much and our conditioning shows that,” he said.” At this time of year we get eight hours with them (per week), but only two of those hours are with a basketball. The rest of that time, we need to make really good progress with conditioning.
“But they need skills work, with that basketball, too, and they need to get out there in the gym on their own and do those kinds of things when we can’t be there. Frankly, I still don’t know if they want to do that or not.
“If they’ll get in the gym and put in the extra work, and we get them in condition, then we have a chance to get off to a decent start in non-conference play. We’re going to press them, we’re going to challenge them. We’re going to make them grow as much as each of them is willing.”
Now that the routine of a new semester has begun, the players and staff will also get to start spending some non-basketball time together.
“Over the next few weeks that part will a little better as we’ll see them off the court and they’ll see us out of the work environment – there just hasn’t been much of that yet,” Daniel said. “Any relationship takes time and it’s only through time that you see who somebody really is.
“That process is where, hopefully, they’ll really learn that we have their best interest at heart and what we’re trying to do is what’s also best for them.”
One thing about the players and staff getting to know one another is that there’s not too much of a generation gap – the 35-year-old Daniel has assembled the youngest group of women’s basketball coaches in Division I. Tony Kemper (32) and Caronica Randle (26) came with Daniel from Central Arkansas, while Tamisha Augustin (29) joined Marshall from South Carolina State.
“Yes, we’re the youngest staff in America,” Daniel said. “I’m glad about that. It’s not something that scares me; I prefer it this way. Our staff is young and hungry and that’s how we operate.
“We work fast and that’s because we want fast results. It’s hard to have fast results if you work slow. We’re moving fast in our operation and, just like in a game setting, I’m not afraid to adjust things on the fly if we need to. That’s the way you have to be willing to do things at our pace and I have a great staff that accommodates that.”
That pace seemed to catch some of the players by surprise.
“I think they’ve been surprised with the mentality that we have,” Daniel said. “I’m sure they saw a young staff coming in and they weren’t sure how disciplined or organized we’d be. I think it was a surprise – a welcome surprise – when we got out there and they saw how we are, that we’re going to get after it every day.
“It went from eyes wide at first to now we get some grins and smiles and the look of ‘Here we go.’ Hopefully it’s something they’re excited about, but we’re going to work and play that way whether they’re excited about it or not.
“If they buy into what we’re doing they’ll be better for it in the long run. If they can’t stick it out I’ll understand and we’ll get kids here who’ll be hungry to play here.”
Daniel knows he’s throwing a lot at his team in a short time.
“Basketball is a simple game, but when you are changing schematically just about everything they know, on top of changing to a new workload, on top of getting to know a new staff – even down to new policies and procedures – it’s hard,” he said.
“I’d like to say that we’re going to change everything and that it will all be fluid, but that’s very rare. My first year at Central Arkansas we won six games. Now we were fortunate enough to win 21 the next year, the biggest turnaround in the country, but that’s not typically how it goes.
“Making big changes usually takes time, but we’re in it for the long haul and it will be worth it.”