Kate Popovec-Goss was named the new Head Women’s Basketball Coach at Bradley University in April of 2022 following eight seasons in various roles at the Division I level. Most recently, Popovec-Goss spent five seasons as both the Associate Head Coach and an Assistant Coach at Northwestern University where she helped lead the program to its first NCAA Tournament win in 28 seasons in 2020-21 and first Big Ten Conference Regular Season Championship in 30 seasons in 2019-20. Popovec-Goss started her coaching career at La Salle University before returning to Northwestern in 2017.
Can you walk our audience through the search process that resulted in you being offered the exciting opportunity to be the next Head Coach at Bradley?
I was really fortunate to have a boss and a mentor (Joe McKeown) that was supportive of my pursuit to be a head coach when I was at Northwestern. He always encouraged me to not just take any job, but one that I felt fit me. It was about becoming a Head Coach at an institution that aligned with my values and vision.
Along with my agent, we identified key factors that were important to me as I started to interview with different programs, including academic tradition, conference, location, and above all, an administration that was supportive both athletically and institutionally who wanted to pour into its women’s basketball program. I wanted to be able to recruit players to a program and institution that I truly believed in. That’s what allowed me to be successful as an assistant coach.
I was really fortunate when Bradley picked up the phone, as the process flew. Everything happened within four to five days. First, we met on Zoom. Then we had an in-person meeting. Finally, I visited campus. Every school moves differently though. Some schools move at a slower pace. Some use a search firm. It’s just really dependent on the AD.
What steps did you take to build relationships with your student-athletes who you inherited that were not recruited by you?
I came to campus as quickly as I could to simply get on the court with them. The best way to build relationships is to get right in the trenches with them and show them who you are. It was impactful for them to hear my voice and feel my energy between the lines. All I wanted them to know, and still understand now, is that even though I didn’t recruit them, they are still my players and will always be my players.
We sat down and talked a lot about value. I told them, quite frankly, I had no idea what their roles would be by the time the season rolled around, but I want them to feel no matter what, they are adding value to Bradley, and Bradley is adding value to their lives as well. I’ve been as transparent as possible because they need to trust me as both a coach and as a person.
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?
Everyone will tell you that you don’t know until you’re in the chair. And you truly don’t. I’m an extrovert and love people, but you can never prepare for the amount of energy that you will have to pour into other people all the time once you’re a head coach. There is nothing you can do to prepare for that as an assistant. At some point in the day, every day, everyone will need you. You’re managing your team and your staff, and fostering relationships within the department and institution. You have to find a way to set some boundaries to allow yourself to focus on what you need to get done. It’s not for long periods of time, but my staff knows if my door is shut to respect that.
You also have to carve out time for self-care. For me, that’s a 6:30 AM workout every day and taking time every night to make dinner for my husband and myself. He and I work together, but while at work we are devoting our time to Bradley, not to our marriage. Your mind will constantly be on the job, and that’s not a healthy way to live your life. There is no such thing as balance, but there is such a thing as boundaries. You have to set them.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice! No one expects you to know everything, and pretending like you do opens you up to more criticism. Embrace your strengths. Continue to enhance your weaknesses. And, hire people around you that you trust.
Finally, write everything down. Your brain turns to mush once you’re a head coach!