Women’s basketball head coach Chris Gobrecht has a reputation for turning teams around, building storied programs in the process. Gobrecht has coached at powerhouses like the University of Washington, Florida State University and the University of Southern California before taking over the Yale team in the 2005-’06 season.
Under Gobrecht, the Bulldogs have steadily improved in the Ivy League — until injuries depleted the Elis’ roster this year. Over the course of her 28-year coaching career, she has amassed 460 wins, which puts her 28th amongst active Division I NCAA women’s basketball coaches. As the Bulldogs head into their last weekend of play, Gobrecht talks about her coaching philosophy, the mother-daughter dynamic with forward Mady Gobrecht ’11 and her vision for the future of the program.
Q In your 28-year coaching career, you’ve taken struggling teams and turned them around — most recently, a Bulldog team that had won only three games in your first season. How have you accomplished these turnarounds?
A One of the strongest things I believe in when I start down a road with any program is building something that will last. There’s no such thing as quick fixes, and you have to instill a culture of consistent success through your recruiting and your system. It’s a very different approach from the “how can we win today” question.
Q Do you have a specific coaching philosophy?
A I’ve always believed in being in great shape, taking a team-oriented approach, and controlling things that you can control — namely, defense and rebounding. There’s probably no more important characteristic than mental and physical dominance, and I’ve always believed in taking it to the opponent, both through pressure defense and aggressive offense. We don’t want the other team to dictate how we play.
Q Will that work with this Yale program?
A We won’t always get the kind of size, strength, and power to compete with everybody in the league, but if we emphasize the things we can control, we’ve got some tricks up our sleeve. We like to play a fast-paced game, and in the preseason, that’s how we surprised teams like North Carolina State. But to play that style, you need to have great depth, and injuries have really hurt us this year. This has probably been the worst injury situation that I’ve seen in almost 10 years, and it’s tough to overcome.
Q You’ve got 460 wins under your belt and are ranked 31st among active coaches in career victories. What has been the biggest reason for your success?
A I believe that win-loss is the most overrated statistic in sports. Coaches can really control it with their scheduling, and the coaches that I really admire are the ones that schedule tough teams and still have great success — like Pat Summitt [currently head coach of women’s basketball at University of Tennessee]. For the number of years I’ve been coaching, I don’t really have that many wins. But I’ve always scheduled tough and I’ve never backed down from a challenge. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of building programs, because my career has never been solely about the win-loss record.
Q Is that why you came to Yale?
A I’ve always been really intrigued by the Ivy League, and I’ve always told myself that if a position at one of the elite Ivies opened up, then I would pursue it. I just wanted to do something different. I’m not like Geno Auriemma at Connecticut or Pat Summitt at Tennessee — I could never be a lifer. I had that option in Washington and could’ve spent the rest of my coaching career building up a juggernaut. It would’ve been fun, but that’s just not me; I love the challenge of building a program.
QWhat’s the difference between coaching for a big-time athletics school and coaching for an academics-first institution in the Ivy League?
A Without a question, the biggest difference is time and priorities. The harshest way to say that is that here at Yale, I don’t own my players. While athletics are very important, they don’t define their college experience. I’ve always believed in balance and academics first, but some of the previous places I’ve been in, that wasn’t always the case. They can preach it all they want, and I don’t care if you’re the ACC, Pac-10, whatever, but when you’re flying kids around on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday nights, academics don’t come first. Don’t sit there and say that — it’s all baloney. I feel much happier in this environment where academics is the priority, although there’s definitely been a learning curve getting used to limited practice time and the other challenges of the Ivy League.
Q What’s it like coaching your daughter?
A On the court, it’s a lot easier than both she and I thought it would be. All my players matter a great deal to me, and there are things that I do for her that I would do for all my players. When she’s on the floor, she’s another player, another person that I care deeply about. It’s had a greater impact off the court because I’m her mom and I’m her coach. When we’re together as mother and daughter, we don’t ever compromise and put each other in a bad spot about who we are as coach and player. It’s definitely an incredible bond that we’ll always have, and to be able to share this experience is amazing.
Q But when you’re struggling on some nights, you don’t want a coach, you want a mom.
A (Laughs) On those nights, she goes to her dad. She doesn’t like me any more than the rest of the players do.
Q Where do you see this program in five years?
A Ivy League champions. And making a little noise on the national scene every now and again, too.