Caroline McCombs has built the Stony Brook women’s basketball program into a consistent winner during her first two years leading the Seawolves’ program. Since arriving in Long Island after serving as an Assistant Coach at Auburn, Northwestern, and Pitt, McCombs has become the first Head Coach in program history to lead the program to multiple post-season berths. McCombs has also compiled a (.540) win percentage, the second-best mark by a Stony Brook coach in the program’s Division I history, and her 34 total wins are tied for the second most by a Stony Brook coach through their first two seasons.
What inspired you to become a coach?
Basketball has always been more than a game to me. It has been a way for me to express myself. I really fell in love with the game of basketball at an early age. I had no idea that it would connect me with lifelong friendships and allow me travel the world. When my playing days ended, I did not want to leave the game. I wanted to help present young women with the same opportunities and more than I had as a student-athlete. Basketball really teaches life lessons. It always seems to take time for those lessons to come to fruition, but it’s been blessing to be around young women each day and to help mold and shape them for the rest of their lives.
What have been some of the biggest lessons learned in your first two years as a Head Coach?
I’ve learned that everything won’t always go the way that you want it to. You can make a plan, but it’s about being flexible and willing to adapt and make the positive adjustments. I’ve also learned more about myself in two years than I probably ever wanted to know or needed to know. I want to be good for my staff and my team every day so that’s making sure I’m good to myself and always try to be a better person.
Having led Stony Brook to back-to-back post-season berths for the first time in program history, what expectations have you set for your program this season?
I believe each day it’s about trying to get better. There’s always room for improvement and as I’m thankful for what we have done at Stony Brook, there is so much room for growth that it excites me each day. Also, every team you coach is different. There’s always a different vibe amongst the players. Each year there are wide-eyed freshman who are learning from the upperclassman. We’ve been working to develop our veterans into leaders. It’s so important and it takes time to develop your team culture. We are on the right track and it’s a great feeling. It’s definitely a process that we are going through. When you start to see the players taking care of each other and doing selfless things for one another, it’s awesome to see the pieces gradually coming together.
With your student-athletes spending so much time on the court and in the classroom, what are some team building activities you do with your team to allow them to have some fun away from basketball and school?
We have close knit environment with our team at Stony Brook. We have players from all over the country and abroad, so it’s important that they feel comfortable away from home. We have a lot of team gatherings throughout the season and try to support one another in our activities outside of basketball. This summer we traveled together to the West Point Triathlon to support one of our players who was participating with her family in memory of her brother. It was a special day and hands down the best thing we’ve experienced since I’ve been here.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to make the transition from Assistant Coach to Head Coach?
In taking the step from Assistant Coach to Head Coach, it’s really about being open minded to anything and everything. It’s totally different. The past two years, I’ve been exhausted at the end of the day from making decisions, but I actually think that now I’ve gotten used to it and have embraced it. I am so thankful for this opportunity because it has really challenged me. My biggest piece of advice would be to find a mentor. It gets lonely at the top, and I believe having someone to share your experiences with is beneficial and important to improve in your everyday role.
Written originally for CollegeInsider.com on November 7, 2016.