Coach Annie Tribble: a passionate, patient pioneer, and a Clemson legend

Former Lady Tigers' coach Jim Davis: 'She didn't command respect - she earned it'

Former Clemson women's basketball coach Annie Tribble sits for a family portrait in 2008

Photo by Mark Crammer

Former Clemson women's basketball coach Annie Tribble sits for a family portrait in 2008

I was 23, and thought I was marginally enlightened and knew a thing or two about women's college athletics; she was 44, and had already done it all.

I made it to our appointment, five minutes late, after two wrong turns in the labyrinth of dimly lit corridors on the upper level of Fike Field House.

"Welcome to the real world," Annie Tribble greeted me, grinning warmly, extending her hand, stepping from her chair behind a small desk in her cluttered, closet-sized office. "So what do you want to talk about?"

Clemson women's basketball coach Annie Tribble with Barbara Kennedy

Clemson women's basketball coach Annie Tribble with Barbara Kennedy

Having been assigned to produce a multi-part, in-depth series articles on women's athletics and the impact of Title IX by my editor, Dan Foster, I had already spent many hours in research.

I knew, then, in 1976, that four years earlier the United States Congress had passed Title IX as part of the Education Amendments Act, which was signed into law by President Richard Nixon and mandated an end to discrimination based on gender in intercollegiate athletics at federally-funded schools. I knew that two years later, Texas senator John Tower had tried to bully through legislation exempting 'revenue producing sports' (i.e. football) from the provisions of the law, and that the House had rejected Tower's attempt to circumvent and had sent him home to cry into his Lone Star beer.

Tribble had just been hired by athletic director Bill McLellan, ostensibly, to coach Clemson's fledging women's basketball team.

Clemson women's basketball coach Annie Tribble with Athletic Director Bill McLellan

Clemson women's basketball coach Annie Tribble with Athletic Director Bill McLellan

In essence, he had hired her to help change the world.

When Title IX was passed, giving women full access to intercollegiate athletics, many critics asked 'why?'

Tribble asked 'why not?' and 'what took them so long?'

"They don't get it now, but they will," said Tribble, leaning back in her chair. "It will take them some time, but they'll come around. Nothing else makes any sense."

She paused. "Do you have daughters?" she asked.

"Not yet," I could have answered.

A decade later, as I watched my five-year-old Maura hammer the ball off the T at the Easley YMCA and race energetically to third base, I thought about Tribble's question.

I understood, as I understand still.

History proved Annie Tribble right.

Before she passed away Thursday after a prolonged bout with cancer, Tribble had lived to see many of her hopes and dreams for women's athletics come to fruition.

She was, in these parts, a driving force in making it happen.

By the time she took the reins of Clemson's young women's athletic program in the mid-1970s, Tribble was already a pioneer.

She took a virtually non-existent women's basketball program at Anderson College and built it into a national power, winning three national junior college championships before moving on to Clemson.

With the help of an exceptional young player, Barbara Kennedy, she quickly put the Clemson program on the map. Kennedy, recruited on a volleyball scholarship, went on to become the leading scorer and rebounder in ACC history, setting records that still stand today. Barbara Kennedy-Dixon serves today as Clemson's senior women's administrator.

Tribble was so proud of 'Bee,' as she always called Kennedy, but no more so than the scores of other young women she mentored during her 11 seasons as Clemson's head coach.

A basketball fundamentalist, Tribble taught a sophisticated, modern game, incorporating sound defensive principles with an offense designed to push the tempo.

Clemson women's basketball coach Annie Tribble

Clemson women's basketball coach Annie Tribble

A 1966 graduate of Clemson, Tribble compiled a 200-135 record during her 11 seasons as Lady Tigers' head coach, after serving nine seasons at Anderson.

Her Clemson teams won 20 games or more on seven occasions, and went to seven post-season tournaments, including the inaugural NCAA tournament.

In 1981, Tribble served as the South team's coach for the National Sports Festival, and played a major role in selecting the United States' 1976 silver medal-winning team as a member of the United States Olympic Committee. She was a charter member of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association.

In 1994, Tribble was inducted into the both the Clemson Athletic Hall of Fame and the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame.

"I put her in the category of all the great Clemson legends," Jim Davis, who succeeded Tribble as Lady Tigers' head coach, said Thursday evening. "There's the same kind of respect, and it was the respect of her peers and her players and everyone who knew her.

"She came along at a time when, for lack of a better phrase, there was a good 'ol boy network in the coaching profession. Annie got in there with them and went toe-to-toe and fought for women's basketball. She didn't command respect - she earned it."

On Wednesday, the day before she died, Billy D'Andrea had the honor of visiting her at Anderson's hospice house and presenting her with the Key to the City of Clemson, as well as a certificate naming the head women's basketball coach's office at Clemson in her honor.

I hope she understood what he was saying, on behalf of all of us - past, present and future.

Thank you, Coach.

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