By Skip Tate
For six weeks after he was hired as the new women’s basketball coach in mid-June, Kevin McGuff spent his days living out of a tiny, sterile room in the Quality Inn in nearby Norwood. When the 32-year-old wasn’t staying in some hotel room on the road while recruiting—which was pretty much every day—he would come back and check into another hotel room.
Be it ever so humble, it wasn’t home. No amount of free continental breakfasts or USA Today newspapers could make it anything but what it was—unsettled. But it had to do. He had to hire a staff, get to know his team and recruit. He couldn’t afford to spend any time with a Realtor while other coaches were out there selling their programs to the tall and talented.
His top, middle and bottom priorities were doing all of the things he had to do to win. Such are the sacrifices of being a head coach, and McGuff was more than willing to make them. If anything, McGuff’s priority list was longer than others who might have filled the vacancy created by Melanie Balcomb, who became coach of Vanderbilt University. He was starting from scratch. He had no assistants, no playbook, no experience at doing all of the things a head coach does.
But none of that was an obstacle in McGuff’s mind. The biggest difference between being a head coach and being an assistant, he says, is that the final decisions are now his. He already knows how to break down a game tape. He already knows the strategies. He already knows how to recruit. The buck has just never stopped with him before.
Being in that position was inevitable, though. McGuff was lauded by basketball publications for his skills and was already interviewing for head coaching jobs when this position became available. Muffet McGraw, the head coach at Notre Dame, calls him “without question one of the brightest young coaching minds in the country” and adds, “There’s no one who is a better fit or a better choice for Xavier than Kevin.”
Sitting in his office overlooking the Cintas Center court, he nods in agreement with McGraw’s latter assessment. While he might not be able to sell his experience to recruits, he says, they will definitely be able to feel his passion for the University. This was the job he always wanted, he says, and he took himself out of contention for another job just to interview here.
He’s getting plenty of chances to sell himself and the program, too. Two players graduated and four transferred from last year’s team, leaving him with two seniors, one junior, three sophomores and six freshmen this year. Fortunately, two of those players are his starting backcourt—preseason All-American Amy Waugh and Reetta Piipari. While their positions on the team may be the most settled, he told all the players that he’s starting with a clean slate. There will be other changes, too. When they travel, they will dress up. They will make themselves available a lot more to the public. They will also take time during road trips to stop and visit interesting or historic locations.
“The team hasn’t done that in the past,” he says. “I think that helps them grow culturally and helps provide a balance.” Those kinds of things also help meld the players into a team, McGuff says.
Whether it helps overcome their inexperience and any challenges brought about by the coaching changes will be determined throughout the winter.
“Any time you change, there’s a lot of uncertainty,” he says. “A lot of players I didn’t see on the court until school started. I only saw one freshman play over the summer. So how everybody mixes will determine how successful we will be.”
McGuff’s stepping into a good situation, though. The team is just two years removed from its trip to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight. It has a solid reputation and, most importantly, he says, the backing of the administration.
“Unfortunately, with a lot of women’s programs, that’s not the case,” he says. “Here, there’s not only financial support, but emotional support as well. And it has great facilities. This program can attract some quality student-athletes. We just need to get kids to campus.”
It wasn’t the facilities that sold McGuff on Xavier, though. He’s kept an eye on the University since he first got into coaching at Miami University in nearby Oxford, Ohio. And when he first heard about the job opening here, he did not waste any time applying, despite the fact he was in Italy with the Notre Dame team at the time. He got on his computer and sent a message to athletic director Mike Bobinski. Many coaches sent résumés; McGuff sent an e-mail.
But it’s all worked out so far. He's even found a house.
“I’m where I want to be for a long time,” he says.
Kevin McGuff has, indeed, finally found a home.