By Wil Crews
Newly hired Auburn Women’s Basketball head coach Johnnie Harris had her first press conference on Monday and explained how she plans to turn the program around.
“Our culture is going to be one of excitement,” Harris said. “Our culture is going to be one of dignity, trust and loyalty. It’s going to be one of hard work.”
For her first ever head-coaching job, Harris walks into a tough situation on The Plains. The Tigers have missed the NCAA tournament in three of the last four years and are losing senior leader, All-SEC Second Team forward and Auburn’s all-time leading rebounder, Unique Thompson. However, the Auburn Family, and its proud traditions, are what appealed to Harris and give her hope for the future.
“I definitely see potential in the program,” Harris said. “Auburn has a rich history, teams that have been in the Sweet 16, the Final Four, won a conference championship, tournament championship, so I definitely saw that. Again, the family atmosphere. I’m going to fit. I really believe that what we are going to do here is special, and I think it will be something the fans will embrace.”
Harris comes to Auburn with a combined 16 years of coaching experience at Arkansas, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Texas. Harris made the move to Austin last season to continue her work alongside Longhorn head coach Vic Shaeffer, whom she followed to Texas and spent 10 years with at Mississippi State. While in Starkville, Harris played a central part in helping lead the Bulldogs to a pair of NCAA Championship appearances.
Despite her lack of head coaching experience, Harris explained how her journey thus far – particularly her SEC experience – has prepared her for this moment.
“Well, the one thing that I have been able to do is learn a lot about the coaches in the SEC, so I think that experience will help knowing how physical and smart you have to be because coaches will throw different things at you,” she said. “So, I think most of these coaches who I have scouted against, I pretty much know what they are going to do or their tendencies so to speak, so I think that helps a lot in terms of preparing to play against them. I’m prepared; it’s exciting that I get to come back and do it against some of the best coaches in the conference.”
As far as the X’s and O’s go, Harris said she plans to employ a hard, physical and aggressive brand of basketball.
“Well, we always say that we are going to pick them up from the time they get into town and we are going to escort them back out.”
Harris also said a key to the success of her teams will be recruiting.
“It’s all about recruiting, having good players. You could be the best coach in the world, but you have to have the players that fit your system, so we will definitely be looking at that.
“I want to have somebody who’s tough, hard-nosed, physical, aggressive, somebody that when the other opponents come in, they don’t want to have anything to do with it because they know we’re going to bring it every day.”
Furthermore, Harris expressed her plans to get the players out in the community as much as possible, and how she’s eager to build a brand for the women’s basketball team, something she learned the importance of from her time at Mississippi state.
Her goals for year one are simple. “Be competitive.”
After that, she said expectations are going to be high. Her first and only conversation with the current Auburn players signaled that, together, they are up for the challenge.
“It was a brief conversation but I felt like they are ready to go, they are ready to get back on the floor and they want to compete at a high level,” Harris said. “They are ready to go, and I’m ready to go with them.”