Coach’s Chair: Diane Richardson, Towson University

Coach Diane Richardson guided Towson to a Colonial Athletic Association championship last season. Photo courtesy of Towson Athletics.
Coach Diane Richardson guided Towson to a Colonial Athletic Association championship last season. Photo courtesy of Towson Athletics.

Perhaps no one has had a more unconventional road to Division I head coaching than Towson’s Diane Richardson.

A standout basketball and track athlete at Frostburg State University, she qualified to sprint in the 1980 Olympics, but didn’t go when the U.S. boycotted. Richardson graduated, married and started an investment company. Her success in business continued for more than 20 years, and included time as a vice president for Bank of America. She began coaching high school basketball in 2001, as the coach of Riverdale Baptist High School. In a five-year stint then, and in her return from 2009-2012, Richardson’s teams won five national championships and were ranked in the USA Today top 10 in five of her eight years there. Her cumulative record was 234-32, but she is also known for founding an academic enrichment program for her team, which raised the collective GPA to 3.6.

From 2006-2009, Richardson was an assistant coach at Maryland and American. From 2012 to 2017, when she was hired at Towson, she was an assistant coach at George Washington and West Virginia. Last year, in her second season, Richardson guided the Tigers to its first Colonial Athletic Association Championship and the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth. She was named conference coach of the year.

Richardson and her husband are the parents of four, including daughter Dana, who was born with cerebral palsy and an intellectual disability.

Describe what called you into basketball from a successful career in business. What did you want to do, and to achieve?

The biggest reason is what basketball has done for me. I played college basketball because I got an opportunity to go to college, and that changed the trajectory of my life. I’ve always wanted to do that for somebody else. I let these young ladies know that they can get so much and achieve so much if they use those tools and get an education. I started donating money towards girls programs in the area, including after school programs, and an AAU program started to spring up. I thought, let me throw in money to these programs too. But I couldn’t stay away. I’d go to practice here and there to see what they were doing with the money – not only providing opportunities for young girls to play ball, but to get something out of it, too. I found myself on the sidelines encouraging them and clapping for them. Then I started traveling with this team and that team, and I got caught up. I thought, my goodness, I want to do this. I took an AAU team that summer and I found that the relationships (I formed) with the kids and the encouragement they absorbed helped them to learn. From there, I jumped into coaching high school.

What is fun about coaching at the high school level?

I told them that we were going to make it so that they’re so good that they were going to get scholarships and go to school for free. I knew how I would teach them how to be better.

They were open to learning like little birds because they trusted me. When you get kids confident in themselves, they become better ball players. As a result of me trying to get them scholarships by helping them to get better, our team was winning, and I was hooked.

What did you learn from the collegiate coaches you worked for to prepare you for coaching at that level?

A lot of the X’s and O’s and the strategies. In high school there are relationships, confidence-building and skill development to work on. College basketball is a business, and you have to have strategies and a scouting report for every opponent. I like to sit down, absorb and become a strategist. I treated it like I did my business: how is this strategy going to allow me to win more games.

How is setting up a collegiate program different from setting up a high school program?

The business side of it is the difference. Collegiate administrators want butts in seats. When I was coaching high school it was more about the individual kids and them getting better at what they do.

But whatever the level, it’s the relationships that make the difference. Staying in touch with a lot of my former players and seeing them live their lives makes me feel so good. Going to weddings and baby showers…..with some former players, we end our conversations with “I love you.”

What is your coaching philosophy?

On court we have an up-tempo style and play with high energy from tipoff until the end of the game. Our skill level fits that. I tell them, “I want you to be energetic and give everything you’ve got in 40 minutes, and the results are going to be what you put into it.”

Every drill is competitive. I use a foam dice, and at end of every drill we roll the dice and have a consequence for each number. Everything is competitive, so you’re always trying your best.

What do you want players to take from your program by the time they leave?

There are three things I stress in addition to academics, which is always first: culture, confidence and character. To see them grab those and take them to the next level, whether as a pro or in business, is the goal. I want them to be very confident, and this is done by turning basketball players into tough females. That’s how I want my girls to be – tough self-advocates.

Coach Diane Richardson has gained popularity for her warmth and positivity. Photo courtesy of Towson Athletics.
Coach Diane Richardson has gained popularity for her warmth and positivity. Photo courtesy of Towson Athletics.

What are the keys to balancing discipline with love?

My players already know from the relationship we’re building, which starts with recruiting. I let their parents know that I’m there for them, that I’m going to push them, but I’m also going to love them. As a mother of four, I’ve been on that other side. I’ll never demean (the athletes). I’ve got their backs, and I push them because I love them.

I don’t hold grudges because I don’t have time for that stuff. I tell them that their attitude is contagious for good and for bad. If they come into the locker room and everyone was down, that would wear on another person. I’m a high-energy person and I wouldn’t let that drain me, but not everyone’s like that.

What did having your daughter Dana teach you about coaching?

Patience, and that every new thing that they learn is a victory. So you celebrate the victories, big or small.

What has coaching taught you about life?

For me it’s goal-setting and goal-getting: you set goals to reach goals. I’ve learned to always work on a goal and to be productive. So many people depend on me.

Have you thought about how long you want to continue coaching?

I have no end in sight. I love doing this, and I am 61 and have no plans on retiring. I can see always continuing. If you’re having fun doing it and you love doing it, then why stop?

So no return to the business world again?

I’m here to stay.

Have you fulfilled the goals you set when entering the field?

No, because I am one of those people who, once I reach a goal, I set another one.

What’s next?

I’ve got a couple kids that I think could play at the next level, so I’ve got to get them to be more consistent so they can realize their dreams.

How has social media influenced today’s athletes?

It’s definitely different to me, especially being old school. Everything is social media-related. I ask them, why don’t you have a conversation with somebody? You are stepping out of your goals because of what someone says on social media. They put way too much into it. I tell them, ESPN is now watching you right now.

Do you and your staff work on team mental training with the athletes?

We are working on part II of “Championship Mindset” on Monday. We like to do a lot of visualization, because if you can see it, you can do it. A lot of young ladies come in thinking they can’t do things. We talk visualization and examples. What’s been so good about my life is that I started with nothing, deep in the depths of poverty, and I knew I had to get out of that and do something different. I had to come out of my comfort zone. I tell them, if you come out of your comfort zone, you can reach higher. We do positive affirmations.

We were told that my daughter Dana would never walk or talk, that she’d be a vegetable. But she has run in the Special Olympics and eats regular food. If you believe it, you can do it. We used to go into her room when she was an infant and clap our hands and say, “you can do it!” “I feel happy, healthy and terrific!” We went in there one day and she started clapping her hands to the beat with us. We believed in her, used positive affirmations with her, and she is the joy of our lives. She’s overcome so much because somebody believed.

What music is on coach Richardson’s playlist?

Old school R&B: Jeffrey Osborne, Earth Wind and Fire – stuff like that.