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Teresa Phillips

February 13, 2003 Columns No Comments




Putting Out Fires, the Teresa Phillips Way

by Adam Shandler

You’re the Athletic Director of a school whose men’s basketball program looks like a bad episode of Cops. First, your head coach, Nolan Richardson III, brings a gun to school for show and tell. Not on your watch, you say. Then, your team under interim coach Hosea Lewis, partakes of a brawl that sent 19 total players packing. The game, already a joke, resumes with four players to a side. The punchline: one of your guys fouls out, leaving the team you oversee with three, and to top it all off, you lose by 17.

Bad news. Bad press. Enough is enough, you think. But what can you do, short of faxing out a bunch of fluff press releases to the local media and making a statement at a podium emblazoned with the school crest?

You take matters into your own hands, that’s what.

Since Teresa Phillips announced on Tuesday that she would temporarily handle head coaching duties for the TSU men’s basketball team, the words “history” and “first” have been tossed around. True, Phillips will be the first woman to head coach a collegiate men’s team in any major sport. (Mary Fenlon of Georgetown and Bernadette Locke of Kentucky were both assistants.) But let’s be gender-blind for a moment. Instead of calling her a historical figure, shouldn’t we be lauding her as a responsible administrator? A woman who knows good PR from bad?

Teresa Phillips does not strike me as the kind of woman looking to make history or garner glory. If that were the case, she’d be pacing the sidelines for the rest of the season and not just one game. And this isn’t a girl power thing either. Phillips will not smack Lewis with more penalties than the OVC-enforced one game suspension. Nor will Phillips ask of TSU players, “Who’s your Mamma?”

No, Phillips is a refined woman, with probably better interpersonal and crisis management skills than most male coaches in Division I hoops.

And she can coach, too.

Phillips picked up an ailing Lady Tigers program from a 2-25 season, went 12-14 her first year and finished an eleven-year tenure at 212-189 before being named TSU AD.

So why is Teresa Phillips appointing herself coach-for-a-day and not yet another TSU assistant coach in the TSU assistant coach repository? (Well, let’s face it. Clearly, that dog don’t hunt. She’d be better off running a sweepstakes and giving the job to a fan.)

When “Coach” Phillips calls the shots on Thursday night against Austin Peay, she is doing it as a caring administrator and an able, proven leader who is trying to save the face of a program with a pathetic record (2-20, 0-11 in the Ohio Valley Conference) and two big black eyes this season. Even a general must take up arms in the darkest of hours. Phillips knows the power of positivity, and if having your athletic director (who happens to be a woman) take over the team seems like a desperate, bombastic way to turn the tide, so be it. Already it’s working. Guys like me are writing more about “Phillips The Coach” than the aftermath of the brawl involving her team on Monday night. And folks like you are reading more — and talking more — about Phillips’s decision.

And you know you want to watch. The game between TSU and Austin Peay, I mean (you dirty person). You want to see what Teresa Phillips is made of…and if she can win.

OVC commish Ron English did praise both Hosea Lewis and Eastern Kentucky coach Travis Ford for reigning in the brawl as best they could, but also stated, “…the coaches are leaders, and it was their responsibility to make sure that those players did not leave the bench area in the first place.”

Phillips responded likewise, saying what any good AD would say: “Monday night’s altercation is certainly not indicative of the outstanding athletic spirit of the OVC or Tennessee State University.”

But unlike many of her colleagues, Phillips backs up her sayings with doings. Let’s see if she can do what Richardson and Lewis could not so far this season — win a conference game.

Then we’ll talk about Phillips becoming “a first.”

     

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