Karen Aston is in her fourth season as head coach at Texas, where she carved out a reputation previously as an energetic and dedicated assistant to legendary Longhorns coach Jody Conradt. Texas began a steady incline in the 2013-2014 season, and has returned to elite status this year, ranked in the top six since week one.
Aston coached high school basketball from 1988-1994, after which she became an assistant coach at Baylor. A stint as assistant at North Texas followed, and in 1998 she took the same job at Texas. From 2000-2006, Aston was Conradt’s associate head coach. Aston went back to Baylor briefly, and then was head coach at Charlotte and North Texas before returning to the Longhorns in 2012.
Sue Favor: What is it like for you to be back at Texas?
Karen Aston: It means a lot, because I put in a lot of time and energy as an assistant coach here. I had the opportunity to spend eight years under Jody, so being back means a lot because I understand the tradition and legacy that Jody built. I want to help us get back to national prominence.
Sue Favor: Was it always your goal to return to the Longhorns?
Karen Aston: I enjoyed my time in Charlotte and I appreciated the people there. I wanted to get back closer to family, and I did in North Texas. I wasn’t thinking about Texas at that point, but then the opportunity came up.
Sue Favor: What did you learn most from Jody Conradt?
Karen Aston: The culture at Texas is different – there are expectations, history and tradition. I have a good grasp of that and I understand what it means to be a Longhorn from her because she is Texas.
She taught me about running a program. Everyone has a coaching philosophy, but taking over as head coach is something else.
Sue Favor: You began coaching a long time ago. How have you changed since then?
Karen Aston: Oh, I’ve matured. When I first started I didn’t have a lot of patience, and I didn’t understand what young people go through. I have a better understanding now because of my maturity. I’m a man-to-man coach, an X’s and O’s coach, and now I understand the other side of that.
Sue Favor: What’s the key to getting the most out of players?
Karen Aston: One of the most important keys toward that end is to have a great staff. The head coach gets all the credit, but the assistant coaching staff is just as important. The maturity and experience of the staff matters.
Sue Favor: Speaking of your coaching staff, the legendary Tina Thompson came aboard this year as an assistant. What’s it been like having her around?
Karen Aston: It’s been great. I’m fortunate enough on both ends of the court to have pros. (Associate head coach) Travis Mays is my right hand – he worked with me before at Texas and played in the NBA. He and Tina both have a wealth of knowledge about what it takes to play professionally; what it takes on a daily basis. And they both have great work ethic. It’s important for the kids to hear from them.
All of us coach the game because we love the game, and we all really really love Texas. Travis also played for Texas, so he has a unique passion for the University.
Sue Favor: What do you say to the team after big wins, like some of the ones you’d had lately?
Karen Aston: (Laughs) This year it’s “move on.” Last year we got too excited, and this year we’re just trying to get to the next one. We are trying to contend for a championship, and last season we got too high and too low. It’s been an intense preconference schedule, so I hope that during the holiday break that they enjoyed their families, ate lots of cookies and opened presents.
Sue Favor: You come across as a very serious coach. What do you do to have fun and unwind?
Karen Aston: Movies are great. I’m a low-key person. I appreciate friend time and down time. We have such a hectic schedule that usually on my off-time I just really appreciate a chance to relax.