Rebuilding A College Program — Twice
Feb 02, 2016Posted by james
Four years ago, Denise Bierly had her most trying season as the coach of the Eastern Connecticut State women’s basketball team. The university dismissed five players for team rules violations, including four players who contributed 80 percent of the offense.
That season, the team consisted of only eight players, with one pulled from the softball team. Some of the ladies played every second of every game as the team won just eight games. Two wins came against much stronger schools. Coach Bierly felt that those victories were the most satisfying wins for the devastated team and that it opened the doors to future success.
Last season, the players who were holding the team together just a few years earlier as freshmen advanced to the Division III Sweet 16. The coach even recorded her 400th career win.
Bierly had arrived at the school about 17 years earlier. She never had been a head coach. She took over a program that had been highly successful for 20 years until it stumbled badly under an interim coach. But, slowly, she pulled the team from its lows, eventually getting the squad to the Final Four before losing an emotional game by a basket.
Even more difficult than that loss was the subsequent decision to dismiss the five key players. Bierly was as transparent as possible about the matter with recruits and their families. She told them the program had recovered once and that it would do so again with everyone’s support.
Through all this, Coach Bierly feels she has grown immensely in her role as a coach, mentor and friend. She said her fuse was short earlier in her career. Now, she has learned to handle her players with kid gloves. One current player admits that Coach Bierly is tough, but that she is fair. The ultimate tribute – “She’s made me a better leader.”