There is no doubt that Anita Howard signed up for a tough task when she was named the newest coach of the Georgia Southern women’s basketball team. The squad has been under .500 for most of the last decade and hasn’t even qualified for a few conference tournaments since the Eagles moved to the Sun Belt Conference.
The goal of building the program and becoming a perennial power might still be off in the distance, but Howard isn’t pulling any punches when it comes to expecting a better Eagle squad in her first year at the helm.
“I know a transition to a new coach can be tough,” Howard said. “But it’s something we’re working through. “I understand what our players are going through and it’s kind of a re-recruiting process.
“We have meetings and lunches and barbecues to get to know each other. Trust is the key. We need to all be in this together.”
Georgia Southern dropped its third straight game on Wednesday to begin the season, but Howard is seeing plenty of things that she likes.
She’s also still reworking this season’s team into what she envisions to be the new path forward for the Eagles. Despite the Eagles returning five routine starters from last season, the rotation and starting lineup has been much different so far this season and the team is hard at work on rebuilding itself regardless of how many pieces are still there from the 2018-19 season.
“I appreciate all the work we’re putting in, even though we’re changing things up,” Howard said. “I think this is a team that is a little too nice. We have a lot of talent, but we have to be tougher.”
Howard has noted that her implementation of her style of play has had some give and take.
The Eagles returned their top three scorers from last season, but aren’t designing offenses to run specifically through them. Instead, the big-picture emphasis by Howard and her staff has been focused on the all-around effort it takes to win games.
“I’m a defensive coach by nature,” Howard said. “I’ve pressed out team a lot to get better on defense, and maybe that has hurt us offensively early on this season. But one thing we’re coaching into the team is that everything is an overall effort.
“We want everyone to be involved in the offense and defense. I know the record isn’t where we want it to be so far, but we have a lot to grow on.”
As women's basketball continues to be a larger part of the collegiate sports calendar, Howard is a fitting choice to lead the latest Eagle squad.
Howard excelled as a prep and collegiate player and has proven herself to be a stellar coach at the college level.
Most great coaches in the women's college basketball game are either male or women who may have a great mind for the game, but who never had the chance to experience the high level of play in which their current players are living.
"I think about that a lot," Howard said. "I think I can relate, and I think I have a staff that can do the same.
"I remember what it was like to be a coach on the court or to have a teammate take that role, so I try to relate that to what our girls are seeing on the court."
Howard is intent on being a 'players'' coach', and her teambuilding activities throughout the preseason and the social media blitzes by her staff certainly endear her to the current roster.
But coaching requires parental instinct, and Howard also has that quality ready to go.
"I have a daughter playing college ball," Howard said. "I know girls this age. I know when they aren't giving all they can. I know when I can get more out of everyone."
That's the new standard for Georgia Southern women's basketball and something that Howard isn't about to compromise on.