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June 28, 2011 at 11:37 AM

Catching up with former Washington coach Tia Jackson

TiaJackson3.jpgRutgers announcement last week put an end to a four-month mystery: Where would former Washington coach Tia Jackson land? Jackson (pictured right) was fired March 14 after four consecutive losing seasons (45-75 overall). Most women’s basketball supporters are excited about the possibilities with new hire Kevin McGuff, but there remains another fraction who wanted to see Jackson coach the final year of her contract.
Her staff also was disbanded and is currently looking for employment. Assistant coach Greg Nared remains in Seattle, but could return to Portland to coach his daughter, a 6-foot-1 wing.

I caught up with Jackson on Tuesday morning to see how she viewed her Washington past and what she is expecting of her new role as lead-assistant coach at Rutgers. Jackson, 40, was a former player of coach C. Vivian Stringer at Iowa and is a native of Maryland, so the move is like a homecoming of sorts.
Women’s Hoops Blog: Do you feel you were supported much at Washington?
Tia Jackson: I think so, as much as could be. The bottom line is win some games and that didn’t happen. So, it was best for them to go in a different direction and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

WHB:
With your departure, was there a discussion?
TJ: It was a discussion. But I think at the end of the day, it was within the best interest of the team and the direction of the program to change direction and that’s what took place. It was definitely a mutual discussion.
WHB: What about the calls you had to make? One of your recruits said they cried upon hearing the news.
TJ: That call to each of the kids was very tough, including the current team. In my four years there, we signed a top-10 class, top-35 class and I think this year’s recruits were going to potentially be a really good complement to the existing team. I definitely think they’re well-equipped and are going to do a great job.
WHB: Did this decision surprise you?
TJ: I can tell you nobody wanted to win more than me. Nobody wanted it more for those players than me and my staff. At the end of the day, if you’re only measured by your wins and losses, I can definitely tell you that’s not who I’m completely about. It’s as much being measured about the wins you have in life as you do on the floor. Obviously you want a combination of the two, so a change was made. If that’s considered the ugly (side of coaching), then that’s the ugly. But what I preached to my kids everyday was, ‘What are you getting from today’s lesson?’ It’s just one thing to identify who you are. For example Liz Lay, she doesn’t get to be measured by wins and losses (because of career-ending knee injuries). She’s got to measured by the successes she has in her life.

WHB:
So, the past four months, did you take a vacation?
TJ: That’s the fun question. I hung out with my family, which is something I wouldn’t have been able to do if I was still working. I saw my niece graduate from high school and got to go to her prom.
WHB: You went to a prom?
TJ: No, I helped them get ready for it. I’m not that loser family member. That wouldn’t have been comfortable for me and it wouldn’t have been comfortable for them to see their Aunt standing there. That would have been more embarrassing than anything…Little things I ordinarily would have missed because of the profession. Maryland is a beautiful part of the country, so I indulged. And obviously I’m still part of the basketball community, so I went around to see some of the tournament play.
WHB: Then when did the discussion to join Rutgers staff begin? Knowing part was prompted by longtime assistant Carlene Mitchell leaving in May to become coach at UC Santa Barbara.
TJ: My conversations with her (Stringer) have been present since I left Iowa and went on to do other things. Maybe I was being interviewed for that entire duration. It was solidified about a week ago and now I feel like I’m getting back into the family business. It just feels wonderful to be here and give back to someone who’s given so much to me.
WHB: Were you talking to any other schools?
TJ: I contemplated taking a year off. I wasn’t really looking for jobs. It had to be a unique situation like this or something pretty comparable. It had to line up right and this was perfectly matched.
WHB: Do you feel this is a step backward at all?
TJ: Not at all. No steps that I’ve ever taken have I looked at as a promotion or demotion. I’ve always looked at it as an opportunity to learn. I feel like now I not only get an opportunity to learn, but to grow, give and serve. I honestly feel that’s always been a part of who I am…I’m going to do the dag-gone best I can to help her recruit kids and win games. Recruiting will obviously be my top priority.
WHB: What did you do with all of your Washington gear? Same fate as your UCLA and Duke garb?
TJ: (Laughs) Goodwill gets a kick out of that! They’ve got about four or five huge duffel bags full of clothes. There’s some fun stuff that I still workout in, like basketball shorts and T-shirts. But for the most part, I’m giving to the community. Or my nieces and nephews rob me blind. They like free stuff.
WHB: Nice. So, when do you hit the road for recruiting?
TJ: We get 21 days, I believe, in July. Of those 21, I won’t see New Jersey except for that little break (blackout period) we get in the middle. Other than that, I’m living out of a hotel and a suitcase.

*PHOTO CREDIT:
Rutgers assistant coach Tia Jackson by The Associated Press

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