“We’re dancing,” read the massive banner hanging over the Bender Arena tunnel after the American University women’s basketball team secured a place in the 2022 NCAA tournament.
When it came time for the recital, the Eagles got danced off the floor by Michigan in a tough 74-39 blowout loss.
Few were disheartened by the loss; in fact, the team’s mere presence in the tournament was a testament to the hard work every member of the organization put in every day of the season.
The real blow came in the weeks following the loss, as four key contributors, including all three of the team’s top scorers, announced they had entered the transfer portal and would be leaving AU. Additionally, former head coach Megan Gebbia announced that she would fill the coaching vacancy at Wake Forest University, ending her nine-season tenure, which included three NCAA tournament berths and a 160-106 overall record.
Enter Tiffany Coll.
With four big-name players departing the program, newly-hired head coach Coll certainly did not inherit the easiest coaching situation, but she isn’t letting that stop her.
“I’m excited to finally have a chance. I’ve been working so hard for this, and people who know me know that this is what I’ve wanted my whole life,” Coll said.
Coll, who played at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, always knew she wanted to be a coach herself.
“I designed my major in college to become a college coach,” she said, referring to a UMBC program allowing students to create their own major based on existing courses.
She and the outgoing Gebbia have a close relationship dating back to Coll’s playing days at UMBC, where Gebbia served as an assistant coach at the time. From Coll’s UMBC days through her overseas playing career and early coaching gigs, the two maintained their tight relationship and Gebbia served as a friend and a mentor to Coll as she transitioned from the court to the bench.
Before Coll ever began coaching, however, she took her talents overseas to wrap up “unfinished business,” playing professionally in Wales and then around the European continent before returning to the U.S. to coach.
Playing overseas exposed Coll to a new world of basketball and sharpened her eye for international scouting, a skill she considers one of her strongest. Despite this, her first coaching job would be as an assistant coach at the United States Naval Academy, an institution which only allows American citizens to play in its athletic programs.
After coaching stops at Lehigh and Towson, Coll eventually found herself on Gebbia’s staff at AU as an assistant coach in 2013. After a few years, Coll climbed the ladder and became the Eagles’ associate head coach in 2018.
Serving as second-in-command during arguably the most successful period in AU women’s basketball history, Coll was as qualified a candidate as any to replace Gebbia. Coll, however, wasn’t convinced the job was hers to lose.
“According to [Associate Director of Athletics Communications] Sam [Rinkus], they already knew that they were going to be considering me,” she said. “I just thought I was fighting for everything possible.”
Coll credits the unwavering support of her players with her new job.
“I think… the significant push was that current and former players all wrote in in my support. I didn’t even know they were doing that, so that was a pretty awesome compliment to know the impact I’ve had on their lives,” Coll said.
The support Coll received from players in the hiring process is a testament to the coaching philosophy she has embraced since her first coaching gig.
“I’m working for [the players],” she said.
Coll has the x’s-and-o’s of the game mastered, but where she truly shines is in her communication with her players. She describes her philosophy as “effort over results,” a mindset that has demonstrated its efficacy in the Eagles’ sustained success during Coll’s tenure as associate head coach.
Coll stressed the importance of coach to player communication in boosting players’ confidence, which in turn bolsters performance.
“Of course you need to have talented players… but most important is their mindset and their confidence level in themselves,” she said.
Although Coll may not have much experience yet being a head coach, she’s not pretending success will come easy.
“If you’re not nervous, you’re not ready,” she said.
She said she tells her players this same thing to ensure they enter every game with a self-assured confidence that never reaches the point of arrogance.
The players have not begun their training yet for the season, and Coll has not yet hired a staff — there is still much work to be done before the framework is even in place for next season.
With a brand new head coach manning a unit adorned with fresh faces, the new-look Eagles could soar or flounder, but under coach Coll, the only certainty is that maximum effort will be put forth at all times.
This season’s team will have an almost entirely different look from last season’s, but Coll is convinced the talent and motivation are there to elevate the team with enough hard work.
“We have the talent coming in — transfers and freshmen — we do have very talented players,” Coll said. “[They’re] just a little inexperienced, but they are hungry.”