Up for the challenge: Audra Smith eager, ready to tackle one of nation's toughest jobs

'I know we can get this program turned around and headed in the right direction'

Clemson women's basketball coach Audra Smith and her family, Adria, A.J. and Anthony.

Photo by Mark Crammer

Clemson women's basketball coach Audra Smith and her family, Adria, A.J. and Anthony.

The last time Audra Smith had day-to-day working knowledge of the Clemson women's basketball program, the Lady Tigers were enjoying their last winning season.

In other words, it's been a while.

Smith, a star player and assistant coach for Hall of Fame coach Debbie Ryan at Virginia, departed Charlottesville following the 2003-04 season to become head coach at Alabama-Birmingham. The next year, Clemson went 8-20, it's second losing season in three years under Jim Davis, and kicked off a string of nine straight losing seasons spanning the tenure of three head coaches.

In those nine seasons, in her first head coaching job, Smith revived a losing program and led UAB to a 138-138 record, including 57 wins over the past three years. Clemson, meanwhile, averaged just over 10 wins per season.

Smith, who was introduced on Monday as Clemson's new head women's basketball coach, knows what she's getting into. The Lady Tigers, once a year-in, year-out contender in one of the nation's power women's basketball conferences, had fallen on, and remained mired in, hard times.

Smith said on Monday that she relishes the challenge.

"I believe the commitment is here that's needed to get Clemson basketball back to the perennial winning level," Smith said. "There has been success here - two ACC championships, NCAA tournaments - and I know we can get this program turned around and headed in the right direction.

"We'll have the resources, and the administration stated that, first and foremost, in the interview process. I know they're committed to success...

"I'm looking forward to working with these young women and giving them a new approach," she added. "I'm a players' coach, and I want my players to be involved in what we're doing and ask questions and give feedback. We're going have a lot of fun and are going to be a lot of fun to watch."

Director of athletics Dan Radakovich said Smith fits the criteria established when Clemson's search began a month ago to find a replacement for Itoro Coleman, who was dismissed after three losing seasons.

"We had a great deal of interest from around the country," Radakovich said. "I felt that the ideal candidate would have previous head coaching experience and have some tangible connection to the Atlantic Coast Conference and the South. Ideally, a candidate would have experience in rebuilding a program.

"The committee interviewed five outstanding individuals, and in the end, it was the unanimous choice of the committee, and I concurred, that Audra Smith would become the sixth women's basketball coach at Clemson."

Clemson hires Audra Smith

Smith brings defensive-mindset

Smith promised that her teams will play an exciting, up-tempo style founded on multiple defensive looks and a strong defensive emphasis.

"It's gonna be fun," she said. "I get a little excited on the sideline, and I've been warned before by the officials that we can't have six defenders on the floor. They want me to stay in the box.

"We will defend, and we'll hang our hats on defense. That's what I'm all about...Defense wins basketball games, and we'll play a wide variety of different types of defenses - full-court man-to-man, run-and-jump, half-court, aggressive, tenacious, in-your face, deny everybody, trap in the post. We'll have an unbelievable match-up zone.

"We believe in working up the floor, harassing the point guard. We'll start working on that right away. Offensively, if we're able to be a very good defensive team, we'll create our own offense. That will allow us to turn people over and get easy chances at the bucket."

Smith takes over the Clemson job with roster holes to fill, following the transfer of numerous players in the past year, but with a narrow recruiting time frame. The spring signing period begins in just two weeks.

She said she hopes to make an immediate recruiting impact.

"There are a ton of players who are still out there," Smith said. "I want to address our areas of need and then go from there. Interestingly, when you obtain a job like this, everybody comes knocking on your door. There are quite a few talented players out there who are begging to come to Clemson. This is a great opportunity for a lot of young women out there."

Smith plans to bring her entire staff from UAB to Clemson, including assistant coaches Daryl Oliver, Marc Wilson and Kathy Becker.

"They're like gum on the bottom of my shoe - you can't get 'em off," Smith said. "I don't want to get them off. They've been loyal and faithful to me for nine years. They're excited about being here."

A native of Milledgeville, Ga. and a former Georgia Miss Basketball, Smith worked as an assistant at Virginia from 1994-2004. She helped the Cavaliers reach the NCAA Tournament in nine of her 10 seasons, and was named the recruiting coordinator in 2000. She helped secure four top-20 classes in five seasons.

As a head coach, Smith has shown the ability to recruit nationally, as her 2012-13 UAB roster featured players from eight different states.

During Smith’s career as a player, Virginia was 113-18 in four seasons, made three trips to the Final Four and won two ACC championships. One of her teammates at UVa was current South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley.

Smith, 43, is married to former Virginia basketball player Anthony Oliver, who played for the Cavaliers from 1988-92. The couple has a son, A.J., and a daughter, Adria, who accompanied them to Clemson on Monday.

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