Coach’s Chair: Terri Williams-Flournoy, Auburn University

Coach Terri Williams-Flournoy celebrates the win. Kentucky vs Auburn in Auburn, Ala. on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics
Coach Terri Williams-Flournoy celebrates the win.
Kentucky vs Auburn in Auburn, Ala. on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016.
Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics

Terri Williams-Flournoy embarks on her fifth season as head coach at Auburn this year – her 25th overall, including 12 as a head coach and 12 as an assistant. Last year was a breakthrough year for the Tigers, who made it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven seasons, where they advanced to the second round.

Known for her defense and up-tempo coaching style, Williams-Flournoy hails from a sports-minded family, and is the sister of Boo Williams. She began her coaching career as an assistant at Georgetown in 1992, where she stayed for four years before taking the same job at Georgia. After six seasons she became assistant coach at Southwest Missouri State for two years before being named Georgetown’s head coach in 2004.

Williams-Flournoy’s teams have posted winning records in eight of her seasons as a head coach. She and her husband are parents to a daughter and a son.

You played at Penn State during a much-heralded time there. How can you compare playing then to playing the college game now?

There were no rules on practice time. Rene Portland was my head coach. We were able to get so much more done at that time. If you needed extra work after practice, you didn’t have to worry about a time frame.

Competition was still pretty good, and now how the conferences have changed. It’s really amazing to see how different they are now – especially the Big East.

Did you always know you wanted to coach?

I never wanted to be a coach. I was a business management major, so I knew I would always be sitting behind a desk telling someone else what to do. My mom always said I was bossy. I just never knew that I’d be doing that with a whistle in my mouth.

I had worked at Penn State, because then it was required in the summer time to work camps. I knew Coach Pat Knapp, and when he had a position come open he called and wanted to know if I wanted to coach. I liked it more than I thought I would.

It sounds like you come from a basketball family. What’s it like having Boo Williams for a brother?

We grew up in a house where there was always someone playing something. Mom was president of a little league team; we grew up with sports. Because of that I didn’t want to play basketball, and I didn’t start playing until eighth grade. I was walking down the hall at school and the coach said, you should play because your brother is playing. So I played, and I liked it.

The ride home after the games with my mom and dad, and Boo would always call with the questions as to “why did you take that shot.” I learned to take criticism at a young age.

How were you able to turn Georgetown into a winning program? What are the keys to success in creating a winning program?

One of the biggest things was taking a chance, and doing things differently. I grew up watching coach John Thompson at Georgetown making havoc for the other team, and I liked that. My fourth year I brought my assistant coaches in and told them I hated the way we were playing. I told them we were going to do presses – full court presses. So I made tweaks and changed our style of play. How many ways can we give ourselves to win? We made it hard on the other team to score. We became a defensive team and to get them to buy into the defense. That gave us freedom in offense.

Back then it was good as the game wasn’t as touchy-feely as it is today, and you could lay your hands on people. Our philosophy was, “they ain’t going to call every foul, so let’s go.”

You’ve had a long coaching journey that’s taken you several different places. How would you describe your evolution as a coach?

Learning from so many, I take what I like and tweak it, putting it together with what I saw in my mind as the way I wanted it to be played. I had so many good people to learn from, including coach Knapp, coach Thomspon and coach Landers at Georgia. So many ideas, so many different styles. I didn’t grow up in the game knowing only one way. I picked here, I picked there.

Is there any coaching achievement in particular that is significant to you?

When we did get it turned around at Georgetown, and the first time as a head coach went to the NCAA Tourney. We were playing Marist, and to see that excitement, we were a different team. I almost felt like a proud parent at that point.

What has been your most humorous moment in coaching?

Anytime I’m on the sideline with those heels on trying to get out of the way. My staff laughs at me saying, “You’re going to get in the press if you’re not careful. And by the way, we can’t see.”

Do you set goals for yourself? For your program?

Both long and short-term, and I break it up season-wise. We have a goal in the summer, and I give them goals to come back with. We have non-conference and conference goals, and I don’t like to do the same thing the same way all the time. When we change, we keep the excitement. At the beginning of season every year, I read a book to them. I read different parts out of the books. Last year we read “You win in the locker room first.” This year we’re reading a Joel Olsteen book. Every time I  have an opportunity to teach these young ladies, I take it.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?

I work out every morning, and then just hanging out with my two crazy kids. We’ll watch “Family Feud” for fun, just to have them sitting there, My daughter is in eleventh grade, and if you can get her to sit down and not kill her brother, who is in seventh grade, it’s a good thing. Because his life is on the line the majority of the time.