It has been a long several weeks here at Bruins Nation; with all of the attention devoted to the Pauley fiasco, as well as the disappointment regarding Coach Caldwell's departure to Baton Rouge, we never got around to writing up an official welcome or an introduction for Coach Close. Here's the time to get an idea of what we have in Coach Close.
While her most recent professional success did occur on the east coast as an assistant coach at Florida State, Cori's is otherwise a lifelong Californian, having been raised in Milpitas and later attending (and playing basketball at) UCSB. After graduating in 1993, Close joined the UCLA staff as a graduate assistant - serving on Kathy Oliver's staff for two years while earning a Master's Degree in educational administration before returning to Santa Barbara to coach at her alma mater. Close stayed on the UCSB staff for nine years - the final three as the associate head coach - before leaving to become associate head coach at Florida State, a position that she held for seven years before coming to Westwood.
Close has been known as an offensive-focused coach; at FSU, she served as the team's 'offensive coordinator', with the coaching-focused site basketballscoop.com seeing in her arrival in Tallahassee the beginning of a sea change in the fortunes of the Seminole program.
The easiest correlation between Close’s arrival and Florida State’s success has come in the form of an unprecedented run of five-straight trips to the NCAA Tournament and six postseason victories during that stretch. In the 21 years prior to her arrival, Florida State had only been to the Big Dance four times and won a pair of games.
As offensive coordinator, Close is responsible for developing the offensive schemes that best suit FSU’s personnel. Her ability to prepare information and disseminate it to the players has been a perfect recipe for success.
An interesting note in Close's new UCLABruins.com profile is the mention of her off-court role in marketing and revenue generation during her time coaching at UCSB.
Close was also instrumental in fostering support and increasing revenue streams for the UCSB basketball program. She developed and implemented a comprehensive marketing plan, designed fundraising initiatives, coordinated speaking, community service and radio/television appearances and created a Fastbreakers booster program. Her efforts were rewarded in the women's hoops program becoming the largest revenue producer in the department of athletics.
While keeping in mind that Santa Barbara does not have a football program and the high revenue that a team can bring into its athletic department, the school has had a pretty solid men's program over the years, with solid media coverage during the years that Close was there. If she was able to help their women's program outearn the men's basketball program, that can be nothing but a good thing for a program (and an athletic department) that has struggled to market itself through the years.
Reactions and statements on Close's move to Westwood from inside and out of the UCLA community include this from Ann Meyers Drysdale:
"Cori has always been close to the UCLA program, from her years working at UCSB and her relationship with Coach Wooden. I look forward to Cori continuing the ideal of being a Bruin, to doing your best and striving to bring a national championship back to UCLA."
Her head coach at Florida State - Sue Semrau - added these words on her former assistant:
"Cori is one of the finest up-and-coming associate coaches in America. She has tremendous experience and everything you would want in a head coach. She has passion for her players, passion for the game, the university and the community. I can't think of anybody who would be a better fit for UCLA than Cori Close."
While FSU is not much of a women's basketball hotbed, several of her former players from both Tallahassee and Santa Barbara are currently playing or have played in the WNBA; at the announcement of the hiring, swishappeal (SBN's women's basketball blog) saw her skill at player development as a strength:
With her player development expertise - including work with 2010 WNBA first-round draft pick Jacinta Monroe of the Washington Mystics and Roneeka Hodges of the San Antonio Silver Stars at FSU - Close appears well-prepared to lead UCLA to further succss.
An short segment on Close filmed while she was at Florida State touches upon her coaching philosophy. While her offensive work is the basis of her success to date, she does not follow a particular system, preferring to fit her strategy to the strengths of her players rather than dogmatically follow a system and force ones players to fit.
During her introductory presser, she talked a bit more about her coaching goals, thoughts on the program and her first meeting with Coach Wooden:
On her primary goal:
"I'm really passionate about disciplined skill development; about coming in one way and every year adding that player development so that when you leave here you're different than when you came."
On John Wooden (breaking down in tears):
"My old staff said save this until the end because you know you'll cry. Coming back here and knowing that I have a chance to build on the basketball tradition in a way that humbly reflects my deepest mentor is nothing short of an amazing honor.
... When I was here, I was in my sweats and I always wanted to meet Coach Wooden. Steve Lavin came up to my cubicle, and said we're going. I'm in sweats, I can't go. Come on, we're going. I was so nervous, about as nervous as I am now. I walked into his wonderful home, said, 'I'm Cori,' and he asks, 'How do you spell that? Ah my great granddaughter's name is spelled that way, come on in." That started a friendship, and I realized he meant much more to me than I meant to him.
Coach Wooden wrote me a note as I left California for Florida, and I had all these things they had given me, and as I arrived at Florida State, they matted all of them, including the note and the last picture we took. I am thrilled humbled, excited, driven to re-mat that photo in Bruin blue and gold to put in my office at UCLA."
As for how good of a hire this was, there certainly can be some debate - it is never easy to tell how an assistant will adapt and react to sliding over to the lead chair on the sideline. Given the recent history with Morgan Center, it is difficult to give much of a benefit of the doubt on any decision coming from that building. While her California ties and history coaching (and recruiting) at UCSB certainly do not hurt - while she was coaching there, the program was dominating the Big West - and by the end of her tenure there, she was in charge of recruiting for the Gauchos, bringing in more highly regarded classes than most of the Pac-10 during that period, her time away from the west coast may lead to an adjustment period to reestablish her connections to the prep scene in the state.
While her prior connection to UCLA - as well as her friendship with Coach Wooden - have led some to call her a "perfect fit" at UCLA, we all know that love from the old guard in Westwood is no indicator of future success. While it will be a few years until we have a clear answer, let's all hope that this is one decision that DG and the folks at Morgan Center have actually gotten right.