Goodenbour Brings Change

UC Irvine women’s basketball head coach Molly Goodenbour is the seventh coach in the program’s history. She played college basketball at Stanford, was a part of two National Champion teams in 1990 and 1992 and was also named the Final Four MVP in 1992. She played in the inaugural WNBA season as a member of the Sacramento Monarchs.

Andrew Melkonian: When did you first become interested in sports?

Coach Goodenbour: I started playing basketball and all different sports when I was little. I had two older brothers that I emulated and followed them around and wanted to do everything that they did. They were both interested and very good in sports and that’s what got me started on the path of doing athletics.

AM: What sports did you play in high school?

CG: Although I played four sports, basketball was what I played all year round. It was a good fit with the person in the coaching position, who had a lot of knowledge and had a lot of drive and who was willing to put in a lot of time with me as a freshman. It was challenging and it was fun and I was having success at it.

AM: Why did you move to the west coast and attend Stanford?

CG: It was the combination of the athletics and the academics. I grew up in the Midwest. I grew up in Iowa and just knew that I wanted to be somewhere different. I felt like I would be able to come in and have an opportunity to play. I felt that we would be successful. I knew it was a great academic school.

AM: How did you enjoy your time at Stanford?

CG: I just happened to fall into a group of great people there. It was probably the best group of people I have ever been around in terms of having a collective identity and a goal and being self-motivating and being autonomous toward reaching a goal of a National Championship.

AM: What happened after you had finished up at Stanford?

CG: I coached for a year in high school basketball and I assisted for a year at University of San Francisco. After that, I really had the itch to keep playing and that was when they first started the WNBA and the ABL. I’d gone overseas to play in Sweden and the year I got back is when they started those leagues. After a few years of playing, I had some opportunities in the offseason to coach and I did at Santa Rosa junior college. When I was done playing basketball, coaching was the next closest extension of being able to participate. I have been fortunate with opportunities that have opened up along the way. I went to Chico State, and after that I got the job here.

AM: Why did you decide to come to UC Irvine after two successful years at Chico State?

CG: I had played at the highest level in basketball and I naturally wanted to see how high I could go in coaching. Chico State was a very good job, but there is always a sense of what’s the next step? To me, UC Irvine looked like a program that hadn’t been good for a while, but was in a great location, was in a good conference where we could be successful in and I just figured why not. I wanted to see if we could take the next step forward.

AM: What changes did you and your staff have to make right when you first arrived here?

CG: This was a group that was ready for change and new leadership and all the kids were great from the beginning with trying to make the adaptations that we asked. A lot of those were mental adaptations. The biggest change was a shift in accountability. We gave them a lot of feedback on everything right away.

AM: What is your coaching philosophy and what are you looking for from your players?

CG: I want all my teams to play hard. I want all our teams to be accountable when they’re on the floor, for each other and for themselves. To play the game with a certain integrity. I want us to be able to defend on every possession. I want us to do sound, fundamental things on and off the floor. You can’t just invent a scorer, but you can make everyone a better defensive player. That’s how we like to view ourselves, a kind of blue collar team, a team that will bump and not be afraid to take a charge, and is not afraid to do the dirty work.

AM: What do you like most about coaching?

CG: I like the interactions on the floor. I like practice everyday. The best part of my day is being on the court and watching when players just get it. The teaching part. Seeing them have some success.

AM: How did you feel after you completed your first season here in Irvine? Did you feel like you had made some progress with the program? How did you feel coming into this season?

CG: It was a hard year for everybody last year. For the kids, it was just a lot of changes and a lot of new things to ask them to do all at once. Our whole goal as a staff last year was to change the culture of the place. A culture of striving for excellence everyday. In terms of wins and losses this year, I knew this would be another year that would still be difficult. We’re still in a growth stage, but at least we have the good solid leadership of the returners this year and that’s something we didn’t have last year. All the freshmen this year got to see Keyonna and Ka’Jahna work hard every single day. I think we have made tremendous progress.

AM: Your goals for this season?

CG: I’d still like to finish conference at .500. I’d like to go more than one game in the conference tournament. You have to adjust your goals for the conference season. We’re still on track to split with every team. A .500 record in conference compared to an eight place finish last year is not bad. It’s hard for me, sometimes, to be patient with our players because I’ve see them be able to beat and compete with teams in our league and I’ve seen us just lose to the worst teams. For us, it’s finding a way to live with giving our best every day.

AM: What are your long-term career goals?

CG: Well, I never had a plan to get into coaching, I don’t really have an exit strategy either. At every place that I have been at, I’ve just wanted to make the most of that situation. Right now, this is the biggest challenge that we have ever had and I really, really want to turn this program around because I don’t see why this can’t be a really good women’s basketball school. There just doesn’t seem to be an enormous obstacle in our way in becoming a very good women’s basketball program and that’s my immediate goal.

I have noticed that when your team breaks the huddle in both practice and in games, they say: “Together.” Where does that come from and what does it mean?

CG: That comes from Stanford. It’s just a good way to break because you got to say something when you come out of the huddle. It’s just another way of emphasizing that everyone’s role is important.