Kim Barnes Arico begins her fourth season as the Michigan Wolverines coach this year, where she has guided the team to 20-plus wins in all three outings. The charismatic leader shocked the basketball world in 2012 when she took the post, leaving St. John’s University after a decade as head coach there. She had lived her entire life in the New York area before she, her husband and three children moved to the Midwest.
Barnes Arico was head coach at Fairleigh Dickinson-Madison, New Jersey Institute of Technology and Adelphi before taking over at St. John’s. In 18 years of coaching, she has posted only five losing seasons.
For the last two years, Barnes Arico has served as an assistant coach for the U18 and U19 USA Basketball teams under head coach Dawn Staley, who is coach at South Carolina. Both teams won world championships.
Sue Favor: Your coaching career is unique in that you’ve always been a head coach and have not been an assistant coach. How has that made you different from other head coaches who have taken the more traditional route?
Kim Barnes Arico: I think my career has been unique in that not only have I only been a head coach, but I’ve coached at every level: high school, Division III part time, Division II and then Division I. I was also still teaching during that DII time, and my coaching style is more from the teaching side of things. I may now be coaching better athletes and quicker kids, but the game is still the game. It’s all about making the connection with young women – young athletes – at the end.
Sue Favor: There was shock when you announced you were leaving St. John’s after ten years, and a Sweet 16 appearance. How did you find the opportunity at Michigan, and what about it felt right to you?
Kim Barnes Arico: I always talk about it, because it took something incredibly special for me to leave. New York and New Jersey were always home to me. My parents were able to come to every home game, and I had three children who were born there. Making that decision was incredibly difficult, but not many people get that opportunity. In moving up I got that chance. I would only have left for a couple schools in the country, and Michigan was one. They have always had success in every sport, including women’s sports, but women’s basketball hadn’t had that success. For me it was a challenge to replicate the success I had at St. John’s here, too.
It’s great being able to recruit to one of the best Universities in the world, like a Stanford. It had to be special to get me to leave, because I left a team that could have been preseason top 10 the following year. But I really believed in Michigan and the division. I knew if I didn’t leave then I would have stayed at St. John’s forever. Professionally you want to test yourself and put yourself out there. We always tell our kids to make yourself uncomfortable.
Sue Favor: What was it like moving to the Midwest after spending your entire life until that time in the New York area?
Kim Barnes Arico: It was a bit of an adjustment. The people in the Midwest tell me I talk a bit too fast for them. When they get mad at me they say they’re going New York on me, and they talk fast. (laugs)
The community has been welcoming and accepting, and so have the players. I took over a group that had five seniors, and they weren’t happy their coach was leaving. But they embraced me and welcomed me and made the transition smooth.
My little girls now call it home.
Sue Favor: You’ve experienced a variety of different scenarios in 18 years of coaching. What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Kim Barnes Arico: Leaving St. John’s with an established program and being there for 10 years, then dealing with things I hadn’t thought about. For example, coming here I didn’t know any of the refs. You know the system where you’re at, and when you start something fresh it’s trying to figure out all that stuff again. Coaching new players is one thing, but figuring out the system of the Big Ten is something else too. I knew playing Big East teams what it would be like. The prep was a lot smoother. I had to figure out new teams, and their style.
the Big Ten is the Big East of old. Our best players in our league are our young kids. There’s been new teams added. The strength of our conference is upcoming again. The Big Ten was slow, but now it’s up and down, fast-paced, athletic.
Sue Favor: What is your coaching philosophy?
Kim Barnes Arico: One of the big things we preach in our program is it’s not a four-year commitment – it’s a 40-year program. We want players to know that we care about them and we’re in their corner. That we’re training to make them the best basketball player and person they can be. Michigan will be in their lives forever.
One of our first games we played Binghamton and the coach was one of my first players at Adephi. She talked about what that meant to her; how involved I was in the process of her getting her coaching job. Having the opportunity to see your players become coaches or seeing your staff get the chance to move on, it’s an incredible feeling.
Sue Favor: What did you learn from coaching with USA Basketball for two years?
Kim Barnes Arico: It was an incredible experience, one of the greatest experiences I’ve had in my life representing our country. It was my first time being an assistant and it was for Dawn, who’s never been an assistant either. One day I’d forgotten the clipboard, and it was a true assistant coaching moment.
The opportunity to get to know one of the greatest faces in the game, being her age and watching her play was great. We had some funny times. Now she’ll send me something via text and I’ll be laughing out loud. She has a great perspective in that she doesn’t get too high or too low; just has a great feel. She was at Temple when I was at St. John’s, and I’ve watched what she’s done and how she’s done it, building the fan base.
Sue Favor: What has coaching taught you about life?
Kim Barnes Arico: That everything is not black and white. That sometimes it’s really important to let your players be heard, to have a voice and to be understanding. Sometimes you can get more out of them if they feel like you were listening to them.
Sue Favor: Your children are ages 14, 10 and 7. How do you balance the demands of your job with family responsibilities?
Kim Barnes Arico: One of the greatest things in my life was becoming a mother but it’s incredibly hard to balance having them and this job. I wouldn’t be able to do it without support from my husband and my staff, and everybody that’s involved at Michigan. Everybody’s taken a role in helping us raise our children and build a winning basketball program. One Saturday morning they picked up my son and took him to his geometry tutoring. Everybody’s got a piece in it; without them it wouldn’t be possible.