Coach’s Chair: Katie Meier, University of Miami

Hurricanes coach Katie Meier hugs Destiny Harden. Photo courtesy of Miami Athletics.
Hurricanes coach Katie Meier hugs Destiny Harden. Photo courtesy of Miami Athletics.

Since being named the Miami Hurricanes’ head coach in 2005, Katie Meier has created a winning legacy at the school. Going into this season she had won 277 games at Miami and guided the team to 11 postseason berths and nine 20-plus win records. Meier has seen 22 of her former players go on to play professionally, four drafted into the WNBA, and she has guided five to All-America honors. She was named the AP co-coach of the year in 2011.

As head coach for USA Basketball’s U18 and U19 teams, Meier led the 2013 squad to a FIBA World Championship. She was named USA Basketball’s coach of the year.

A standout for Duke from 1986-1990, Meier spent three years after graduation playing in Belgium. She began her coaching career as an assistant at UNC Asheville, and then was associate head coach at Tulane from 1994-2001. She was then the head coach at Charlotte for four years before coming to Miami.

Meier’s father Gerry played for DePaul coach Ray Meyer, and was a friend of Doug Bruno, who also played for Meyer and went on to become the women’s basketball coach at the school. Gerry Meier died in a plane crash when Meier’s mother was four months pregnant with her. Her mother remarried, and children from both parents combined to number 10, with Meier as the youngest sibling. She worked at Doug Bruno’s basketball camps for 14 years.

What were your expectations when you first arrived at Miami? How have they changed over the years?

I was at Charlotte and I was so happy. I loved it and I loved living there; I loved the people. It was going to take something special for me to leave there. I had always looked for jobs with the potential for a lot of growth. Miami had just joined the ACC at that time. I studied it and I thought, ‘they will be at the bottom of the ACC for a while.’ But I loved the growth potential; I loved that gap. I looked at it as the difference between where you are and where you could be.

I’ve read that you don’t believe in goals. How does that work with your team?

I set long-term goals and I believe in goals. I don’t like to have an ‘end all, be all’ with the goals. I believe in creating opportunities. If someone says, what do you want to be when you grow up, when they said it to me as an eight-year-old girl, my goal would have been a teacher. I got my Master’s in teaching at Duke, which created opportunities for me. But sometimes you can’t even dream it. Wanting to be a Division I coach would have never come out of my mouth. I believe in having a vision, but don’t get so locked into it. I like to create more options – not less.

How did you go about building a program?

The more simple, the better. When you’re building, there are things you can overlook, and I’m guilty of that this year. If you overlook some fundamentals, then you realize that if you’re going to build, what’s the foundation? There are some simple drills that we do every year. On game day, we don’t want to get too complicated.

What are the best ways to sustain success over a period of time?

For me, I activate and empower my people. Some can give their people permission to do some things, and they can give them a title, but did you activate them? Do your assistant coaches get to coach when they scrimmage? I’ve had people tell me they can’t believe how much I let my staff do. Well, I activated them. You sustain a staff and you sustain your people. My freshmen tend to get playing time, and they are allowed to turn the ball over more than the juniors.

If I walked into a Hurricane practice today, what would I see?

A ton of energy from the coaching staff. We’ll start a shootaround, and if you’re in the gym, you’ve go to clap. If you’re a media person, if you come in, you’re clapping. The trainers are clapping, the managers are clapping. There’s a lot of communication – a lot of raw communication. Truth speaking, and a ton of teaching. On a good practice there are a lot of questions from the players.

So you like to create a learning environment?

God, yeah.

Creating positivity is a priority for you.

It’s contagious.

That’s just who I am. If I can make it better I will. If someone needs a hug, I hug them.

What do you want your players to take away when they leave Miami?

I want them to already want to come back and give lessons to the new freshmen. I want them to feel so connected to this place and invested that they want to come back to practice. I want them to say, ‘let me in the locker room to share my wisdom.’ There’s a pride to it and an implied growth.

What does it mean to you to see some of your ex-players in the WNBA?

It’s great. I’m happy for my players and my coaches. Bruno can claim me on his coaching tree, because I worked his camps for 14 years. Part of my coaching tree includes Carolyn Kieger of Penn State, Darrick Gibbs of North Florida, Lynn Bria of Stetson and Amanda Butler, who was my longtime assistant.

What has basketball taught you about life? And what has life taught you about basketball?

The thing about basketball, as opposed to other sports, is there are so many immediate changes in basketball. If you’re coaching football, you’ve got 30 seconds before the next play. You get to analyze the defense while the game is in progress. In football, a player plays half the game. Hockey and basketball are two sports where if you don’t have the ball, there’s a good chance you’re on defense. In basketball you have to think quickly, you have to be resilient, and you have to bounce back. Changes happen very quickly, and you’ve got to bounce back and learn, and you may not have time to process it at the moment.

If you could go back in time and tell your younger coach self something, what would it be?

Get some sleep. Be aware of your impact. In coaching you can do a lot of damage in a 10-second moment. You can do a lot of damage with a comment. Coaches have a ton of impact, and and hopefully it’s positive. I can say something to a player and 10 years later she can come back and say, ‘do you remember when you said?’ and ‘it made me feel’….

How did your “Brady Bunch”- style, basketball family prepare you to be a coach, and a human being?

The number one thing, and being the youngest, is I can go into a group setting and read the room immediately. And really, even to this day, I can be teaching or film and say to my staff, ‘did you see so-and-so? She’s falling asleep. Or, ‘I get a vibe this way or that way.” And my assistants are wondering how I knew. That’s just innate.

I didn’t talk first, second or third- I was number 10. I had to sit, listen and really learn. Because the family merged, it was group over individual, so we all had to sacrifice. One day the family had four kids in a big house and a day later you had to share a room.

What is the best thing about your job?

The best thing and the most precious thing that I cherish the most is that every day I go into a group and I picked them all. You’re not going to hear me complain a lot. I’m not big on complaining, and the opposite of complaining is gratitude. When I get frustrated I think, ‘I can’t complain about these players – I picked them.’ You get to create your environment as a head coach; your hands aren’t tied by other people’s choices.

If you had any free time – and I’d guess you don’t have too much – how would you spend it?

Everybody’s lovable if you just listen to their story. Do you take the time or have enough balance in your life if they’re having a colossal come apart in a game? Because there’s a reason for it. Maybe not then, but later hit them up and find out if they’re OK. Then there’s losing: of course we lost, but if you’re not as disappointed as I was, then maybe I didn’t pick the right person.

The big part of this is that when you have enough balance and perspective, you have time to get to the ‘why’s. I try to be there to get to why, and the ‘what do you need?’ I’m not easy to play for; I will tell players, ‘that’s not good enough,’ or ‘that’s not good enough for ACC play. I’ll ask, ‘what’s wrong with you? to get them more invested.

So what do you do for fun?

People think I’m on my boat all the time, but I’m not. I do have a boat in Key Largo. I used to golf. I love to be a part of this community, too. I love to not be at the gym and then watching film. People are really supportive of the program. They’ll ask me if I can stop by, so I do. I feel proud of being a part of the Coral Gables and Miami community, and I didn’t do that earlier in my coaching career.