On April 8, 2016, Kacie Cryer’s life changed when the Louisiana native and seven-year Assistant Coach at McNeese State University was promoted to the program’s Head Coach. At the time of her hiring, she was one of the youngest Division I Head Coaches in the nation (29), but her energy, positivity, and strong familiarity with all-things McNeese State made Cryer a natural choice. In her first season leading the program, Cryer led the Cowgirls to 14 wins. In year two, she is more settled into her role as Head Coach and looking to build on last season.
Can you take us through the process up until and your emotion once you were officially named the new Head Coach at McNeese State?
The process leading up to my hiring at McNeese State University was a very quick one. From the moment that the job became available until the time I was named the new Head Coach was about a 48 hour process. It was very different because I had been an Assistant Coach at McNeese four years prior to that day, so I was already on campus when the process began. Once Brooks (Donald-Williams) accepted the job at Alabama, I was contacted to turn in my resume and informed that I would have an interview two days following that. I prepared my portfolio for my interview and began preparing for that moment. During that 48 hour period, I went through many different emotions. I felt sad because I was losing my friend and mentor in Brooks, nervous and unsure of my future because I was not sure McNeese would come after me because I was young and never been a Head Coach before, and anxious and excited that they gave me an opportunity for the interview.
My interview process was very different because I was already on the staff, but the interview lasted three hours. Some of it was to explain my philosophy and plans for the future, but most of it was to visit about myself and how I felt like I could be the best fit for this program. What made the interview longer was during my interview it was announced that Brooks had taken the job at Alabama, so my phone automatically began to ring from our current signees and family members asking me what the future of our program was looking like. It was actually a great tool for me during my interview because I was told to let them know it would all work out and when I informed them that I would be staying they were relieved. Three hours later I was named the new Head Coach at McNeese State University. What a day that was for me and my family. I was so blessed for the opportunity that was given to me at the age of 29.
What benefits and challenges were there in transitioning from Assistant Coach to Head Coach at the same University, McNeese State?
The benefits of taking over a program that I was already at was my relationships with the current players and signees. I played a role in a lot of these student-athlete’s recruiting processes, so they were familiar and comfortable with me when I was named the Head Coach. When the transition happened, I am pleased to say that we did not lose any members on that current team and we did not lose any of the recruits that we had signed, so I felt like that was a big plus for McNeese State University. I also feel like my relationships that I currently had around campus with other faculty and staff members made the transition easier.
One of the challenges of the transition from Assistant Coach to Head Coach was having to be the person to make the final decision for everything within the program, as to where as an assistant I would come to Brooks with my suggestions but never had to make that decision. It sounds like that would be easy to do and as an assistant you sure do think it is easy, but trust me, the moment you slide over to the other chair it is not as easy as we all think.
Another big challenge was the hiring of my staff. I knew it was so important to get the right people in here with me to make this whole thing work and I feel like I did a good job of putting that group together. It is not easy managing your team and staff, but if you surround yourself with the right people that challenge becomes a lot easier.
I also feel like another challenge for me was the amount of fundraising that I had to do as a Head Coach compared to an as an Assistant Coach, but that has become easier in my second season.
Are there any strategies you utilize to maximize a minimal budget?
I don’t think I have a special strategy in utilizing our budget here at McNeese. I just feel like I do a good job of watching what we are doing as a program and never give any signs to our girls that we do not have anything less than any other program around the country. I feel like a lot of it is how you approach the situation and we do a good job of focusing on the positives of what we have. Our recruiting budget is very small, but we do a good job of recruiting within our region, which helps with a lot of expenses. We do not fly a lot to play our non-conference games, which helps, but when we are ready to take a trip for a game we will be able to do so.
I do have to spend a lot of time fundraising for our program, but as I said earlier, this has become easier during my second year as a Head Coach. The fundraising part of my job helps us maximize our budget and the Lake Charles community does a tremendous job of supporting our University.
Knowing what you know now as a Head Coach, what advice do you have for assistant coaches to best prepare to lead their own program for the first time?
My advice for assistant coaches is be a sponge and take in every aspect of the program. I started from the bottom as a Graduate Assistant, so I have done every job within a program from washing clothes, breaking down film, mopping the floor, recruiting, scouting, on the floor coaching and anything else it took. Don’t ever think you are to big to do any of those jobs. I actually find myself still helping out with some of those tasks as a Head Coach just because I don’t know any different.
Work hard in all that you do, have the right attitude, whether you agree or disagree with the decisions made. We can all say we would do better if we were the Head Coach, but understand you have no idea how many factors may go behind any decision made until you sit in the Head Coach’s chair.
Be loyal to your Head Coach and dream big for what you want. I tell my players all of the time, if you work hard for what you want, your dreams can come true. Mine came true very early in my career because I approached my job with the right attitude and work ethic!