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Photo credit Shanna Lockwood/Auburn Athletics

Director of Athletics Allen Greene

“War Eagle! It is great to have you all here for this wonderful occasion. We embarked on a women’s basketball head coaching search about a month ago and went through a very expansive roster of highly talented and capable individuals. During that process there were several people who were so infatuated with women’s basketball who love to offer their opinions and their wisdom. Johnnie’s name kept on coming up.

“When you think about why someone is special, you don’t have to look much further than who they surround themselves with. The fact that this woman has been operating at a very, very high level for quite some time, it does nothing but give me great hope for the future of our women’s basketball program and a tremendous amount of excitement. Ladies, as I look at you and think about your experience here at Auburn, which is the most important thing that we can do for you, we want to make sure that you are well-rounded women. We want to make sure that you are empowered and that you are confident, to take what you learn on the court and apply it to real life. As we’ve had conversations with Coach J, it became very apparent that she wants to make you better people, better on the court and better off the court.

“We find ourselves in a time where there are a lot of distractions going on in our country, and when you stop and actually think about what matters, you think about the people who matter. I want to thank a few people who have helped us get to this point, some of which are in this room today. We had a search committee with Quentin Riggins, with Kim Evans and Beverly Marshall. We had our internal search committee of Marcy Girton, Monique Holland and Brant Ust. Monique is someone who I want to say a special thank you to for your hard work and effort throughout this process. It’s been a fun one, but it has also been a long one. So, Monique, thank you very much.

“Before I introduce Coach J officially, I want to share something as we’ve had our conversations about who she is. She is soft-spoken. Well at least maybe in this setting, she’ll be soft-spoken. Behind us on the court, I think it’s a whole different ball game. She’s someone who cares about people. Someone had asked the question, ‘What’s your favorite part of practice?’ You talked about 1-on-1s because that’s a time you get to know someone, you get to develop them, and I thought that was a really cool answer. You’ve been a beacon in the communities that you’ve served, which is awesome. The Auburn Family loves that. You’re a competitor. She’s a competitor and has achieved and been a part of programs who have achieved a ton of success – not to set the bar too high but success that we’re looking forward to as well. We would like to find ourselves not only in the NCAA Tournament but making deep runs. She knows the blueprint, having worked with a number of successful coaches, and our job is to collectively help her put some orange and blue tint on this blueprint and help make the young ladies in this audience, Coach J and her staff, and the Auburn Family very proud. So without further ado, I would like to welcome our next women’s basketball coach, Coach Johnnie Harris.”

Head Coach Johnnie Harris

Opening Statement

“War Eagle! First of all, I’d like to thank God for just blessing me with the opportunity to be a coach and then with this wonderful opportunity to be the head women’s basketball coach at Auburn University. I’m really excited. I’m excited about this opportunity. First, I want to thank Dr. (Jay) Gogue. I want to thank Allen Greene and Monique (Holland). It felt like family. It felt like somebody welcoming me into family, rather than an interview process. Their passion and their excitement, it just told me a whole lot about Auburn University. I want to thank my family for being here. I have so many supporters, so many people that supported me, and I can’t name them all. But my family, they are always there. They are always there, never questioning until we lose. Then they’ll question me. But other than that, they are always there to support me. My daughter, Kiera. She’ll be moving here with my grandson, Kaiden. That’s my sister, Pam. I haven’t seen her in a while. I’m getting a little bit emotional. It’s been a while since I’ve seen her, but she’s always there. She’s so supportive. She lives in Little Rock, Arkansas. But really, thank you for being here. I want to thank the Board of Trustees for just believing in me and believing in my vision. The entire Auburn family, believing in me, welcoming me in. I am just really excited. I’m excited to be a part of this. I just felt the passion when speaking to them, the very first conversation – the passion, the love that they spoke about Auburn University with, about this city, about the community. It was just passionate, and it just felt like home. All the texts. I got a chance to speak on the phone with (Bruce Pearl) and Coach (Bryan) Harsin and got some really good nuggets. Everybody just speaks with so much passion, so much love for this university. It’s just refreshing. These players, the first time I talked to you on the phone, the question was asked if you all have any questions for me. And the first thing they wanted to know is, ‘When do we get on the floor?’ That told me a lot. They’re ready to go. I’m ready to go. But they’re ready to get on the floor. We’re going to get better. But I’ll see you guys tomorrow. We’ll be on the floor, and I’m excited about that.

“I also wanted to thank a few coaches that helped pave the way for me being here. First of all, (Texas head coach) Vic Schaefer. Vic Schaefer is more like a brother to me. We’ve been together for 14 years. He has molded me into the person that I am. I’ve learned a lot from him. He allowed me to take a leadership role with all of his teams. He just put me out there and he taught me and guided me and led me, and I’m just so thankful to have someone like him in my corner. The last thing he said to me is, ‘Whatever you need, whenever you need it, I’ll be there.’ And I really do believe that. There are a few other coaches that I would like to thank. My high school coach, Tommy Ballard, who really made me want to become a coach because he was so caring. It was about more than a coach-player relationship. It was about developing me as a person, more than as a basketball player, as a person. My college coach, Roy Daniels. He was also instrumental in teaching me and developing me into a young lady, just going the extra mile. Coach Lewis Harden, Tracy Stewart-Lange, Susie Gardner, the late Kay Yow – who just came and found me. One of the things she told me right after she became a Hall-of-Famer, ‘You remind me so much of myself. You’re soft-spoken, but you’re so competitive. Don’t let anybody tell you that because you’re soft-spoken, you’re not a good coach because it’s about reaching people.’ She was amazing at that. Just to be able to learn and to mentor under her was amazing. Then, Gary Blair. He’s an amazing coach, he’s an amazing teacher, he’s an amazing mentor. He just teaches you so much about the game. I’m so lucky and so thankful to have had the opportunity to coach with him.

“My vision for this program is tough, hard-nosed, aggressive, basketball players, basketball program. That’s what I want to have. I want to have somebody who’s tough, hard-nosed, physical, aggressive, somebody that when the other opponents come in, they don’t want to have anything to do with it because they know we’re going to bring it every day. That’ll take hard work. We’re going to bring that every day. It’s going to take hard work. It’s not easy to achieve that, but we’re going to get that done. I would like to have my players out in the community. That’s one of the things that we’re used to doing. Everywhere that I’ve been, we’ve been out in the community. We’ve made sure that our players are accessible to our fans, to our boosters, to everybody that’s a part of our program, a part of our family. Auburn is a family. I can tell that already by everybody that I‘ve met so far today. They’re a family and I want that family to embrace our players. Our culture is going to be one of excitement. Our culture is going to be one of dignity, trust, and loyalty. It’s going to be one of hard work. Education is going to be really important. Our expectations are going to be high. Education will be number one with us. You’re a student before you’re an athlete. We will make sure that you guys are doing the best that you can in the classroom. Both on and off the court, we’re going to be a light in this community.”

On seeing potential in the Auburn program …

“I definitely see potential in the program. Auburn has a rich history, teams that have been in the Sweet 16, the Final Four, won a conference championship, tournament championship, so I definitely saw that. Again, the family atmosphere. There have been countless coaches that have reached out to me already. I’m going to fit. I really believe that what we are going to do here is special, and I think it will be something the fans will embrace.”

On the excitement of being a first-time head coach and the challenge of doing that in the SEC…

“I knew it would come. I wasn’t ever someone who was sitting in my position looking for a head coaching job. I knew it would come, and when it did, I knew I would be ready. It’s amazing that this happened in the SEC, I have been in the SEC for 16 years and I’ve coached and scouted against the best coaches in this country, some of the best coaches in this conference. I’m prepared, it’s exciting that I get to come back and do it against some of the best coaches in the conference.”

On speaking to Auburn’s players and building on the current roster…

“It was a brief conversation but I felt like they are ready to go, they are ready to get back on the floor and they want to compete at a high level. They are ready to go, and I’m ready to go with them. That’s what I took from that conversation.”

On the parallels of helping Vic Schaefer build his program at Mississippi State and taking the reins at Auburn…

“Absolutely. I definitely was a part of that. Vic Schaefer had me right there along with him, and he has put in that blueprint. I had a big hand in that and I’m very comfortable doing that. It’s not just what I do, or what we do, it’s who we are. It’s something that we will definitely put into play.”

On her style of play…

“Well, we always say that we are going to pick them up from the time they get into town and we are going to escort them back out. So we are going to play hard, physical, and aggressive the entire time. I am not exactly sure … we will have to get in and evaluate to see what we have to start right now. We will play to our strengths, but we will definitely be recruiting to play that style of defense where you can press. I also like to do some zone pressing and trapping, so we will do some things that are different but a lot of the same.”

On being competitive in the SEC…

“For the (team) to be successful (in the SEC) … it’s getting in and seeing what we have right now, and then recruiting. It’s all about recruiting, having good players. You could be the best coach in the world, but you have to have the players that fit your system, so we will definitely be looking at that.”

On using her previous SEC experience…

“Well, the one thing that I have been able to do is learn a lot about the coaches in the SEC, so I think that experience will help knowing how physical and smart you have to be because coaches will throw different things at you. So I think most of these coaches who I have scouted against, I pretty much know what they are going to do or their tendencies so to speak, so I think that helps a lot in terms of preparing to play against them. So that would be my experience.”

On what she can apply from her experience at Mississippi State to coaching at Auburn…

“Just again, our style of play, definitely, but also embracing our fans and fan base and building a fan base. I thought that was one of the big things that we did, and that is important when you are building a program is to have that fan base, so some of the things we did there I would definitely carry over.”

On relationships with Auburn alumni, former coaches and letterwinners…

“I already had Ruthie (Bolton) reach out to me, and I actually got to know her a little bit when we were at the Final Four in Dallas and she came and spoke to our team. We’ve kept in touch since then, and she sent me a text the other day welcoming me home. I would like to reach out to all of them and make sure that our players know them and that they know our players, and that they share what it took to get to that level. I think they’re important, just because of that rich history that they had. Also, Coach (Joe) Ciampi, I would like to reach out to him. I know he’s very instrumental and big here. He’s somebody that I have had a conversation with before, and definitely looking forward to talking to him as well.”

On putting her own stamp on the program…

“A lot of what I envision doing is what I’ve done with Coach Schaefer. There are some tweaks that I would add to my program. For the most part, if it ain’t broke we don’t fix it. What Coach Schaefer and Coach Blair did was really good for us, so I will definitely be incorporating a lot of that.”

On scheduling a game against Texas and Vic Schaefer…

“I’m not exactly sure, but hopefully we will meet somewhere down the line.”

On her time at Mississippi State and returning to Starkville for the first time as Auburn head coach…

“My time there was amazing. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m a shopaholic, and Mississippi State didn’t really have that, so I wasn’t sure. There were so many other things that I fell in love with while I was there. The people there are amazing, so it meant a lot. It will be special going back, but I’m going back to fight.”

On goals for year one…

“Our year one goal is to be competitive. It’s to be competitive night in and night out, and when you’re competitive night in and night out, you have a chance. We definitely want to build on what they did last year, and you always want to get better. So just making these players the best that they can be and continue to build. But we want to be competitive every night we step on the floor.”

 

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