Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A chat with new Atlantic 10 associate commissioner Wendy Larry

Winning games has always been only part of what Wendy Larry has brought to women's basketball. She is a pioneer and an ambassador, a former WBCA president, a community role model, a mentor to her peers and now an associate commissioner in the Atlantic 10 with a emphasis on women's hoops.

While that's a great opportunity for the former Old Dominion coach, consider the boon it is for the coaches in the A-10 to have Larry as a mentor.

"That's my hope," said Larry from her condo in Marco Island, Fla. "I was talking with (ODU field hockey coach) Beth Anders about the benefit of having the opportunity for a commissioner to sit across the table and ask you, 'What are your thoughts? What are your needs? What are the important pieces of the puzzle that you think are missing?' To have conversation about that, to put everyone in the same direction instead of the conference moving one way and the coaches moving somewhere else, that's ideal. You want to make sure everybody is on the same page."

Larry officially starts in her new role on Thursday, but really she is already under way, making calls to A-10 athletic directors and coaches, many of whom she knows well. St. Louis coach Lisa Stone, Rhode Island coach Cathy Inglese and Fordham coach Stephanie Gaitley were all on the WBCA board while Larry was president. Larry also knows Marlene Stollings, named VCU coach on Tuesday.

While Larry hasn't coached in more than a year now, it really has never left her blood.

"I feel like I am coaching," she says. "I said that to a number of coaches I spoke to yesterday. In some regard it's mentoring, obviously; it's being there for them, sharing opinions about mistakes I've made or about ideas that worked. From that perspective, I'm really psyched about this chance. It's life lessons, man. It's about relationships. I'm really thrilled that (A-10 commissioner) Bernie McGlade gave me this opportunity."

A chance meeting in the wee hours at the Newport News Airport started it all, with Larry en route to visit her mother and McGlade headed to an A-10 school for a meeting.

"I was in front of her and she was in security," Larry said. "We sat and talked until I had to board my flight. She asked me at that time if I would coach again. I was hopeful. I still had that kind of feeling that I wanted to, but I told her at the time, in my heart, I was looking at some other things -- not because I didn't love coaching, but everything that happened taints you a little bit. I told her I knew I wanted to be involved in the game. I knew I didn't want to leave the game, but I didn't know what that meant."

Larry later toured the Newport News A-10 offices but McGlade was uncertain whether a job would be available. It wasn't until Larry headed to Florida that she got a call from McGlade saying the A-10 wanted to officially interview her.

As luck would have it, the A-10 was having meetings in Naples, Fla., about 30 minutes from Marco Island.

"I can't deny this opportunity was a gift from God," Larry said.

Marketing will be among her responsibilities, and improving attendance is already on her mind.

"The attendance piece is huge," she said. "There are so many groups out there seeking acceptance. I think of all the Buddy Walk kids. What a tremendous group of people that is who would love to be loved. That's what women's basketball does so well. I think they relate really well to their fan base, so if you can create relationships with these people, it's a win-win situation. There's a number of groups out there that I think can be courted."

She includes students on that list.

"Students are fickle," Larry said. "They can be influenced and changed. I'm sitting here at night watching the NCAA softball tournament. It's intriguing to me, some of the things that are going on in the dugout and the cameras are on them.They're watching them sing and they have a sign language. Maybe there's a niche out there for women's basketball we haven't found yet."

Larry has traveled extensively the past year, spending much of it with her 89-year-old mother, who she promises remains an independent and spry woman.

"I've been able to have some really quality time with her," Larry said. "It's been invaluable. It's been the greatest thing I could ever imagine. I wouldn't trade it for the world."

Admittedly, she said, the past year has been trying at times, one of the reasons she stayed on the road for much of it.

"It was difficult for a number of reasons," she said. "You had to educate people because people would ask what has happening with the team, and I had to explain it wasn't my team. You think you live in this big world of athletics. In truth, it's a teeny, tiny world. A lot of people don't know. They know, but they don't know. They know because I've been around so long, but they don't know I'm not at Old Dominion anymore. It got tiresome talking about it all the time."

Larry said she never formally interviewed for another coaching position, though ironically has been approached twice since taking the A-10 job.

"I was being really picky; I really was," she said. "I lived in Arizona for two years and I knew I was never going to be land locked again. I only looked at water-based universities."

Instead she landed about 45 minutes from her Virginia Beach home in a city on the James River, water she knows well.

Larry feels lucky to have found the opportunity, but LadySwish has no doubt that the A-10 coaches, athletic directors, administrators and players are the real ones with the good fortune to have hired such a winner.

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