Krista Gerlich doesn’t get much lip from her players at West Texas A&M.
When she does, the head coach just has to utter a few words to get her players to listen.
“‘Raise your hand if you’ve won a national championship,’” Gerlich says, “and my hand is the only one that goes up. That kind of gets them to shut up and go, ‘OK, all right,’ and they get back on track.”
Gerlich, in her seventh season as head women’s basketball coach for the Lady Buffs, won an NCAA title with Texas Tech in 1993 when she was known as Krista Kirkland.
Of that championship team, five players went on to some level of coaching in either high school or college.
Others help out with their kids’ teams, as basketball remains firmly in their lives. Now that her playing career is over, Sheryl Swoopes has expressed a desire to get into coaching.
“When you’re a product of your environment at Texas Tech with great coaching and great fans and great basketball,” said Noel Johnson, the head women’s basketball coach at Midwestern State, “it doesn’t surprise me at all that we have some coaches from this team.”
Johnson, who ran the point in 1993 for the Lady Raiders, is in her fifth season leading the Mustangs. Janice Legan — formerly Janice Farris — coached at Abernathy and Denver City before settling in to coaching at Sundown.
Former Lady Raider Nikki Heath is the head girls goach at Creekview High School in Carrollton.
Kim Wilson, whom Lady Raider fans called Kim Pruitt back in ’93, was a longtime assistant at Abilene High, South Plains College and Arlington Bowie before handing in the whistle and becoming a counselor.
The paths the five women took to coaching were all a little different, as is their final destination.
They’ve modeled their coaching styles differently, taking bits and pieces from each stop.
But they said building strong relationships with their players and communities is a necessity.
They learned that from their old college coach, Marsha Sharp.
“You hear so much about coaches nowadays how they treat kids and mistreat kids,” Legan said, “and we know from our experiences that’s not how you do it. It’s about relationships.”
Johnson said Sharp showed them mutual respect. That’s what she tries to instill in her players.
She believes that can get the best out of her players.
“It’s just delivering that message every day and being consistent with what you’re trying to teach your kids — but not only what comes out of your mouth but your actions in person,” said Johnson, whose team is 18-4 this season. “That’s something that I definitely learned from coach Sharp. She followed up with what she said in her actions.”
The transition from college student/national champion to coach was an interesting one for the Lady Raiders who became coaches.
Wilson recalls a boys coach at Abilene photocopying one of her Lady Raider trading cards and posting it all over the school.
“I wanted to be anonymous, so to speak,” Wilson said. “But what amazed me is even moving to Arlington over the years, and just last year I had someone ask me if I was Kim Pruitt who played basketball at Texas Tech.”
Gerlich jumped right to the high school ranks after graduating Tech, heading to nearby Lockney, where she had to learn on the fly.
Wilson stayed on a year as a graduate assistant, and she said she came to appreciate the coaching challenges her coaches had — challenges she didn’t realize they went through when she was a player.
“Just seeing what all goes into it behind the scenes,” Wilson said. “You get to see more than just what takes place behind practice.”
Gerlich coached on the high school level for a decade before returning to the college game. She spent three years coaching for Tech on Sharp’s staff before the hall of fame coach retired.
Of course she learned Xs and Os (like running the high-low game Sharp employed) from the Lady Raider staff, and she learned how to recruit and run the day-to-day operations of a basketball program.
She also appreciated how Tech built its rapport with the community — something she has tried to emulate within Canyon.
“We always had open practices,” Gerlich recalls, “and we always had four or five fans that would come every day, and they didn’t bother anybody. They were there — they just loved them so much. And I just think that’s really important as a coach. ... That’s how you have to relate to people in the community and that’s how you get people in the stands.”
Though Legan and Wilson are content with their reduced coaching roles now, Gerlich and Johnson are rising stars in the Division II scene.
More than a week ago, Johnson’s team took a 58-55 victory against Gerlich’s Lady Buffs.
“When the ball goes up we get after it,” Gerlich said. “But when the game’s over, we’re still great friends and great teammates. And we’ll always have that.”
*Editor's note: An earlier version of this story excluded Creekview coach Nikki Heath from the list of players from the 1993 team that went on to coaching.
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