Sandra Rushing seemed to pass her first recruiting challenge Thursday as new University of Central Arkansas Sugar Bear basketball coach.
Among those in the packed Hall of Fame Room at Estes Stadium were returning players from the Sugar Bear basketball that went 24-7 and won a Southland Conference regular-season title last season. After a short meet-and-instruction session with the team before the introductory news conference, the players, still numbed a bit from the sudden departure of Matt Daniel to Marshall, seemed re-engergized.
“It’s been a crazy few days, but we stuck together,” said post Megan Herbert, noting the coaching transition took place in fewer than three days. “I’m excited. She knows how to win and I think she’s gonna push us to greater things.”
“When I met these players, I could see the excitement and passion in their faces,” Rushing said. “I could see the pride in the program and what wearing that purple means to them. I had to go out and find some purple clothes. I love purple.
"There's always uncertainty and I had to assure them things would be OK. I know they have passion and pride in the program."
In 10 years at Delta State, Rushing compiled an 254-58 record and averaged 28 wins a season the last seven years that included a 64-game home winning streak. The Lady Statesmen made eight NCAA tournament appearances the last 10 years. two NCAA Division II final four appearances and compiled three 30-win seasons.
“If we could start practice today, we’d start today,” she said. “I’ll spend the weekend looking at film and putting together a plan. So many things have happened so fast, but you will be proud of the product we put on the floor. And I’m going to give it my best.”
Dr. Brad Teague, UCA’s athletic director, said Rushing has a three-year contract with a salary of $95,000 per year. He said incentives built into the contract could take her to $110,000 in a given year.
Rushing has coached at all three NCAA levels — Division I at UTEP (where she is still the school’s all-time winningest women’s basketball coach), at Division II Delta State and at Division III Millsaps.
Daniel, who led the Sugar Bears to three straight 20-win seasons, was introduced as Marshall’s coach Tuesday. Brad Teague, UCA’s athletic director praised Daniel and his staff for leaving the program in good shape.
“It’s an awkward time to find a coach, but it’s something we had to address quickly; I apologize to Delta State. We were fortunate my first choice was interested and excited,” said Teague, who was athletic director at DSU or five of Rushing’s years as coach. “She is academically minded, she wants to follow the rules, she is community-focused, she thinks it’s about student-athletes and she operates with class.”
She said her philosophy is basic.
“Sometimes, coaches make things too complicated,; I’m simple” said Rushing, a native of Biloxi, Miss., who was a four-time academic All-SEC player at the University of Alabama. “I like to get up and down the floor, but I think you have to play defense and rebound. I’ve been a man-to-man person, but I know you have to play to personnel. I want to do what we have to do to win.”