After what may have been the most exciting win of her head coaching career, Tia Jackson chose not her own words but the words of a colleague. Shortly after shocking BYU 67-66 with a buzzer-beating shot last Wednesday night, the University of Washington women’s basketball coach borrowed a phrase that she credited to UW cross country coach Greg Metcalf from earlier in the day.
“Good teams figure out how to win,” Jackson said. “Today, we were a good team.”
Having been a winner at every other level, Jackson is still learning what it takes to win games as a head coach. With a 22-41 record in two-plus seasons as head coach of the Huskies, Jackson has found herself in the unfamiliar position of underachiever at UW.
Two games into the 2009-10 season, Jackson is still trying to fight for respectability in an athletic department that, during the past academic year, won two national titles and had seven NCAA berths among the nine women’s sports. She entered her third season as head coach needing to show signs of improvement.
But Jackson doesn’t shy away from the inevitable pressure.
“It kind of comes with the position,” said Jackson, whose Huskies play at Gonzaga this afternoon. “But I don’t mind it. When you’re changing a program, you’re coming in, you’re new, you’re building what you want to see on the floor, you’re going to take a lot of that.”
At the beginning of this season, Jackson was asked whether she has had to develop thick skin amid the criticism that comes with her record as UW’s coach. She said she’s always been tough, and last week Jackson pointed toward an impressive list of mentors like C. Vivian Stringer, Tara VanDerveer and Gail Goestenkors to help her through the bumps in the road.
“All the people that have touched my life, it’s been amazing just to have that collection of people I could go to and lean on over the course of life, of my 17 years now of coaching,” said Jackson, who played under Stringer at Iowa and served as an assistant under VanDerveer at Stanford and Goestenkors at Duke.
Some of Jackson’s current players have come to her defense in recent weeks, saying that the coach has taken too much of the blame for the Huskies’ lack of success.
“Obviously, the head coach isn’t out there (on the floor) with us,” said Kristi Kingma, a sophomore guard from Mill Creek. “She wasn’t out there with us defending or the one that gave up the (game-winning shot at Portland State eight days ago).
“She’s considered a part of our family, just like the players, so it’s tough. But she’s a tough person. She handles it; she lets it fall on her shoulders so it comes off of us, which is nice. She takes one for the team. We just wish we could give her better outcomes.”
If Jackson feels the heat this season, she’s certainly not showing the marks of perspiration.
She has been promising a more exciting product since the season started, and the Huskies (1-1) have provided just that with back-to-back buzzer beaters. What Jackson’s UW teams are still trying to prove is that they can win with any kind of consistency.
Today’s game at Gonzaga would be a good start in that the Huskies were able to win back-to-back games on only two occasions last season. The longest winning streak of the Jackson era is three games, which happened twice in 2007-08.
But the Huskies’ third-year coach isn’t overly concerned about the slow start to her tenure.
“People want instant gratification, coaches included,” she said last week. “You want to be able to watch it happen right now. Well, that’s not realistic. So I think the patience in all that has probably been my biggest challenge.
“It’s been fun. We’ll see the individual growth out there, and that’s been the biggest highlight even though we haven’t had the win-loss (percentage) we would have liked.”