In 2017-2018, her second season as head coach at her alma mater Nebraska, Amy Williams guided the team to a 21-11 record – a nation-leading 14-game turnaround from the previous year. The Huskers were chosen for the NCAA Tournament, Williams was named Big Ten coach of the year, and her coaching contract was extended that spring.
Williams began her coaching career as an assistant at Texas-San Antonio in 2001, and also assisted at Oklahoma State and Tulsa before being named head coach at Rogers State in 2008. It was the first year for women’s basketball there, and Williams built the program from the ground up, culminating in an NAIA Elite Eight trip. She was named South Dakota’s head coach in 2012, and in all four years there, Williams guided the team to a Summit League Championship. The Coyotes won the WNIT title, went to the NCAA Tournament twice and were 32-1 on their home court during Wiliams’ tenure.
She played for Nebraska from 1994-1998, and with her husband is the parent of two daughters.
You’re one of a handful of coaches who head up the program at their alma maters. What does it mean to you to be head coach at Nebraska?
It’s really hard to put into words. I think back to the amount of pride I had when I was wearing the Husker uniform as a student athlete, and how fantastic that felt. For me to represent and to be back now and leading – it’s such a special opportunity.
Does it look the same?
When I was here I thought it was the pinnacle of sport, and to be quite honest I didn’t feel like there was any way to improve on what was top-notch. When I came back I was astonished at how many ways they found to raise the bar, with facilities and other things.
You’ve had success in turning programs around. What are the steps involved in rebuilding and restructuring a team?
What’s strange is this is my third head coaching job, and every place has been uniquely different. My first job, I got hired to start a program from scratch; there was not any women’s basketball anywhere on campus. If was very different building from scratch, because I had to recruit 15 players in three months before school got started. Over the course of five years we went from being a start up program to playing in the Elite Eight. When I took over at South Dakota our staff walked into a good situation, as the previous coach had left the program in fantastic shape. Then I had the unique opportunity to walk into my alma mater. Three completely different opportunities, and I feel like each one of them have called for different kinds of nurturing. I am blessed to have a great staff.
You’ve been able to carry what you’ve learned at each job to the next one?
Each one of those stops was a unique chance to pick up things and learn. I learned and made mistakes at first stop, and was able to adjust and overcome from there.
Have your assistant coaches been with you whole time?
Tandem Mays went with me from Rogers State to South Dakota and is now with me at Nebraska. Chuck Love was also with me at those schools. Tom Goehle I met at South Dakota and he came with me to Nebraska, as well as our director of operations. It is a blessing to have had a consistent, staff that is ego-less.
How do you motivate players? How big a part of success is motivation?
That’s really a big piece, and what we like to start with is recruiting motivated young women. People who have that drive and desire. What I feel like we’ve learned is that motivation looks different for each athlete we’ve got in our program. Having healthy chemistry and culture that they love to be a part of is also very important.
What are the foundations of a successful program? What are the steps in building a team?
The steps to build the team have been different in every place I’ve been, but for us now the foundation is build on that healthy culture that we have. For our circle of success, what are the concepts we have to have? We have to have players buy in and have good communication, commitment and loyalty, perseverance, respect, humbleness and responsibility. We talk about those concept on a daily basis.
Who are your mentors in the game?
My dad was a high school basketball coach, so I grew up a coach’s kid, going to the gym and watching film. He was a major influence on my life and in my coaching career and coaching philosophies. Then I was fortunate to play for two fantastic head coaches while at Nebraska. My first and top mentor I got when I was a graduate assistant at Nebraska-Carney: Amy Stephens (now an associate head coach at Memphis). She taught me how to break down film how to scout and how to recruit.
What is the best thing about coaching?
There are so many fun and awesome things about this profession, but nothing is better than watching young women as they grow and prepare for the life after basketball. Through the life lessons that they learn, through basketball and being a team, through the ups and downs and adversity, they learn. This is a time of their lives when they are growing into who they are as people, and it’s a privilege being a part of watching them grow and mature.
When did you know you wanted to coach?
I came to Nebraska as a bio-math double major. I was doing an internship at the hospital when I decided I didn’t want to go to medical school. I went all the way through and got my undergraduate, but wish I would have been a psychology major. I got through college basketball and recognized that it was something I wasn’t willing to give up. Once I admitted it, I never looked back.
How has the game changed since when you played it?
The game is bigger, faster and stronger. I’m so glad I played when I did, as I’m not 100 percent sure if I’d make a roster now. It’s been fun to watch the evolution. With the pro leagues now, my daughters are three and eight, and they are growing up with fantastic role models. This summer they asked me if I could take them to the Lynx-Sparks game.
What steps do you take to continue learning and maintain a fresh approach to the game?
The biggest thing is you just can’t get stuck in your ways. You have to be constantly finding was to grow, whether it’s visiting other college coaches or going to clinics. I am always humble enough to know that even though a system has worked for us in the past, we have to make tweaks and adjustments every day. That extends to our staff: how could we have been better? How can we continue to grow?
What is your goal for your student athletes by the time they leave your program?
The biggest goal is they’re going to be prepared to handle the things that will come at them and have a positive outlook, feel confident about who they are as people, and proud of the things they have accomplished at Nebraska. And to handle the things that come their way with grace.
What kind of music do you listen to? Who are your favorite artists?
The majority of the time my music is on 90’s R&B. “Can you stand the rain?” kids didn’t.
You and I are twins.