Coaching Spotlight: Susie Gardner

Veteran NCAA Division I coach Susie Gardner became Mercer University’s 10th head women’s basketball coach on Jun. 24, 2010. Throughout Gardner’s career she has established herself both as a player, and as a coach in women’s basketball.
Gardner was a member of the University of Georgia women’s basketball team that won the SEC title in 1983, 1984, and 1986. She played on the Sports Festival South Team that won a gold medal in 1983. As a player, Gardner was also a member of the USA’s Select Team, which competed in Canada.
She began her coaching career at the University of Georgia, where she fulfilled the role of a graduate assistant from 1986 through 1988. From there she went on to become the assistant coach at San Diego State University. In Clarksville, Tenn. Gardner rose to the ranks as head coach at Austin Peay State University where she won lead the team to win three consecutive Ohio Valley Conference tournament championships and was awarded OVC “Coach of the Year” in 2003. She then became the head coach at the University of Arkansas and competed at the WNIT tournament. Finally before Gardner accepted the head coaching position at Mercer, she spent three years as an assistant coach at the University of Florida. At Mercer, Coach Gardner is hoping to make history with the women’s basketball team.
Coach Gardner sat down to talk with the Cluster about her experiences as a life-long basketball player and coach.

Cluster: What made you want to become a college basketball coach?
Gardner: When I went to the University of Georgia, and played collegiately I knew I wanted to become a college coach. I knew I wanted to coach all my life, and then at every level that I played, I knew that I wanted to coach. In fact, I became a head basketball coach at age 23.
C: Growing up, did any of your basketball coaches inspire you?
G: I grew up in small town Mt. Juliet, Tenn. As we all know, girl’s basketball in the state of Tennessee is a huge deal. Being in a small town my high school coach, Tommy Martin, was very demanding. You were like a local miniature celebrity if you played girls basketball in Mt. Juliet. Coach Martin instilled in me a work ethic that made me who I am today. Everyday of my life since junior high has been something to do with basketball, right or wrong. I would say Tommy Martin in high school, and coach Andy Landers at the University of Georgia where two of the most influential coaches I had. When I made USA basketball I played for Coach Weller, who was a female coach at the University of Maryland. As my first female coach she showed me that women could be tough, strong and knowledgeable just like the coaches I had grown up with. Even though I was only with her for three weeks, in a round-about way she played a pretty big role in my life as a female coach.
C: What made you want to coach basketball at Mercer?
G: I know the state of Georgia has good girl’s basketball players in it. The academics here at Mercer are obviously very strong, and Mercer’s never been to the NCA tournament in division I, ever in its history. There’s something about making history, and doing something that may be a little tougher to do here at Mercer than it would be at the University of Georgia for example. President Underwood knows what we inherited, and believes in what we can do. Sybil Blalock also played and coached at Mercer, so she understands the challenge we have here. I think the support at Mercer was a huge draw.
C: What accomplishment are you most proud of since you started coaching at Mercer?
G: Our biggest accomplishment thus far is that we’re just building the foundation. We have to look at our daily walk, instead of maybe what has happened in terms of our record. It’s about changing the mentality of our players. Our biggest accomplishment is yet to come.
C: How do you feel about the upcoming season?
G: We’ve had the most devastating set of injuries that I’ve ever experienced in 25 years of coaching. We started out with 15 players and we now have 8 healthy players practicing day to day. You can never anticipate that many injuries and devastating blows to a program at the same time. We are going to have players that were potentially going to get a little bit of playing time that are now going to be starting. Everyday is a challenge, and as a coaching staff we have to figure out how we’re going to move forward with the hand we have been dealt. We have been dealt a very tricky hand.
C: Have you ever had any basketball-related injury?
G: Ironically, I did have knee surgery this August by the same physician who’s operating on our recently injured players. Who knows when it happened, it could be that I’m just getting up there and my knee was wearing down. I was never injured as a collegiate player at Georgia.
C: What do you do in your spare time, when you’re not coaching?
G: Up until I came to Mercer I was probably one of the most unbalanced coaches in terms of allowing myself to live life instead of just 24/7 coach. I had several people close to me say I needed to get some balance in my life. I love to play golf, but only from the months of April to August before our players get here. I only play in the summer months, I never play in the season. I love kayak fishing. I bought the kayak in Florida, where I fished on the intercostal. In Georgia I bass in my kayak, which is still really fun, and I don’t take my phone with me. I enjoy being outside and fishing, it’s a nice mental release. The problem is when I start having hobbies I’m intense about those too. I’ve also started taking pictures, and in fact I’ve won a couple of ribbons at the Georgia National Fair for my photography. Most recently I went down to South Georgia and took pictures of the cotton fields when they were in bloom. I do a lot of different things now, which is good mentally for this profession.
C: Is there anything else you’d like to share with the student body?
G: Coaching has always defined who I am, Coach Gardner, and now I’ve come to realize that I’m just as good of a coach when we were winning at Austin Peay, as I am now. I just need to make sure that I’m enjoying the process, instead of just the end result. I’ve learned to not let my profession define who Susie Gardner is.

Head coach Susie Gardner and the Mercer women’s basketball team return to play on Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. against Brevard in Hawkins Arena.
This game will serve as the kick-off event for Homecoming Weekend 2012 as well as the regular season home opener for the team.