Rushing in as coach as UCA moves fast
By Jeremy Muck
CONWAY — Less than an hour before her introductory news conference as Central Arkansas’ women’s basketball coach, Sandra Rushing gathered her new players in the Hall of Fame Room at Estes Stadium, getting to know a team that has won 21 games each of the past three seasons.
In what was described as a “whirlwind” by Rushing, the former Delta State coach interviewed for the Sugar Bears’ position Wednesday with UCA Athletic Director Brad Teague and was named Thursday as the Sugar Bears’ coach.
Rushing replaces Matt Daniel, who resigned Tuesday to become coach at Marshall University.
During her meeting with her players, Rushing said she wanted to ask them about their concerns and said she was able to quell any initial doubts.
“When there’s change, people have a lot of questions,” said Rushing, who was 254-58 in 10 seasons at Delta State (2002-2012) and is 403-255 overall in 23 seasons. “People are like, ‘What’s going to happen?’ I wanted to assure them that it was going to be OK.
“What I did get out of our conversation is that they care about this program, they take a lot of pride in this program and they’re very passionate about this program.”
Rushing was one of two candidates for the position along with UCA associate head coach Tony Kemper. Rushing interviewed with Teague - who was Delta State’s athletic director in 2002-2007 - on Wednesday and resigned from her Delta State post later Wednesday night. Teague contacted Rushing on Sunday after Daniel had told him that he was leaving to go to Marshall.
On Thursday, Teague called his latest coaching search “fast and furious.”
“It had to be because at this time of year, we couldn’t let this great group of ladies not have a coach for an extended period,” Teague said. “Fortunately, not only did we work fast, we got the best Division II coach in the country with 23 years of experience.
“We’re very pleased that Coach Rushing was willing and excited about being here.”
Teague said Rushing’s contract is three years for $95,000 per season plus incentives. She is the only female head coach at UCA.
Rushing, 47, won six Gulf South Conference championships and made eight NCAA Division II Tournament appearances at Delta State. The Lady Statesmen made six consecutive Division II Sweet 16 appearances (2006-2011) and went to the Final Four in 2008 and 2009 under Rushing.
UCA finished 24-7 and won the Southland Conference regular-season title last season. The Sugar Bears made their second consecutive postseason appearance, losing to Oklahoma State in the first round of the WNIT.
Rushing is entering a stable situation, with three starters returning from last year’s team, including two-time Southland Player of the Year Megan Herbert.
“It’s impressive. There’s a good corps coming back,” said Rushing, who was a finalist for Southland Conference jobs the past two seasons at Stephen F. Austin and Northwestern (La.) State. “I’m excited about this team and their attitudes and their commitment.”
Herbert, who will be a senior next season, said the change in coaches will be good for the program.
“We are a good group of girls,” the Sugar Bears forward said. “Having that experience, we’ve been through a lot. It helps her [Rushing] because we know this program inside and out. It helps us because she can come in and ask us and relate to us and be open.”
Rushing, a native of Biloxi, Miss., played four seasons at Alabama (1982-1986), was a four-time Academic All-SEC selection and is the Crimson Tide’s career free-throw percentage leader.
After graduating from Alabama, Rushing was a graduate assistant under Lloyd Clark at Delta State in 1986-1988. She made her head coaching debut at Division III Millsaps (Miss.) College in 1989-1990 and finished 13-9 before accepting the Texas-El Paso job in 1990, becoming the youngest Division I head coach at 26.
At UTEP, Rushing was 123-175 in 12 seasons (1990-2001) but never made the NCAA Tournament. She then went to Henderson State for one season (2001-2002) and was 13-13 before leaving for Delta State.
Going into her second Division I coaching stint, Rushing said she feels she is more experienced and looked back on her first major coaching experience at UTEP when she was around legendary men’s basketball coach Don Haskins.
“I think I’ve grown as a coach,” Rushing said. “I’ve learned a lot of basketball. ... When I left UTEP, I really grew when I was at Delta State because you have time to study the game and getting to know the players. It’s the same thing we’re going to do here. You never stop studying the game.”
Rushing at a glance AGE 47 POSITION Central Arkansas women’s basketball coach COACHING RECORD 403-255 overall in 23 seasons (254-58 in 10 seasons at Delta State in 2002-2012) HOMETOWN Biloxi, Miss.
COLLEGE Alabama NOTEWORTHY Gulf South Conference West Division Coach of the Decade in 2010. ... Six-time Gulf South Coach of the Year. ... Won six Gulf South championships. ... Went to the NCAA Division II Tournament eight times in 10 seasons at Delta State and made six consecutive Sweet 16 appearances (2006-2011) and two Final Four appearances (2008, 2009). ... Averaged 28 victories per season in past seven seasons at Delta State (198-30). ... Was 132-9 at home as Delta State coach, including a 64-game winning streak in 2007-2011. ... Was 2-6 against UCA during tenure at Delta State (2002-2006) when Sugar Bears were in Division II. ... All-time victories leader at Texas-El Paso (123-175 in 1990-2001).