Ed Swanson had never seen the campus of William & Mary until he arrived to interview for the job as women’s basketball coach, yet he felt like he had been there before.
That’s because his sister-in-law, Mary Ann Baumann-Brewster ’81 and nieces Megan ’06 and Dianne ’09 Brewster filled the air at family dinners with stories of their days at William & Mary. It’s a proud university, they told Swanson. There’s a sense of community. And, of course, it’s an elite academic institution.
“My sister-in-law would say, ‘Ed, you’d fit in perfectly there,’” Swanson recalled with a wry smile. “There are always a few jobs out there that you say, ‘Well, if that came open, I might take a look at that.’ To be completely honest, William & Mary was never on that list for me.
“But when the position came open, I kind of threw my hat in there ... After the interview, I told my wife that this was a situation we were going to have to take a hard look at.”
On May 7, Swanson had done all the looking necessary, and signed a contract to become the Tribe’s new women’s basketball coach. On Monday at Longwood University, Swanson will begin what he hopes is a career at W&M every bit as spectacular as the one he forged at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut.
In 23 seasons, Swanson’s teams won 406 games, 280 of them after the school moved from Division II to Division I in 1999-2000.
In addition, his teams have enjoyed tremendous success in the classroom. Five of his teams were selected to the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association top-25 team honor roll, with last year’s squad sporting an overall grade-point average of 3.35.
“I’m used to coaching the type of kids that we have here – smart, self-motivated,” Swanson said. “I feel like if I have to convince a kid to go to class, how am I going to teach them a pick-and-roll? I wanted to be at an academically elite institution.”
There’s no doubt that Swanson and the staff he brought with him from Sacred Heart have their work cut out. The Tribe hasn’t had a winning season since 2006-07, and was 13-46 the last two years. By his estimate, graduating players accounted for 68 percent of last year’s offense and 51 percent of the rebounding.
“There’s a lot of opportunity there, and the kids are hungry because they haven’t really had an opportunity to showcase their abilities and talents,” Swanson said. “(In practice and exhibition games) they’re fairly competitive. We have a lot of the intangible things that make up a good team.”
Swanson has some mildly unorthodox coaching methods. He hasn’t selected captains for this season, in part because that puts the onus of leadership on the entire team. A freshman or sophomore with the right personality makeup could emerge as a leader, and why stifle that possibility?
Also, he’s not so much interested in who will be in the starting lineup as who will be on the floor at game’s end.
“I’ve always fallen into the category that I want to get nine players ready to play, play seven and trust five,” he said. “Kids get so caught up in who’s starting the game; I start from the back end, the last five minutes of the game. The staff and I have been talking about who are the five players that we trust the last three minutes of the game; not necessarily because they're going to make the shot but you’re not going to lose because of effort.
“I had a player in here the other day and she said, ‘I know you don’t trust me yet,’ and I told her, ‘I don’t trust anybody yet! It’s not just you!’ That’s what we’re working towards.”
Swanson equates this season to constructing a puzzle.
“We’re putting the pieces together,” he said. “Sometimes, people play better when they start, and sometimes people play better coming off the bench ... Right now, I’m looking for that best unit; it might not be the most talented, but the one that can get us off on a good start. It’s going to be a continuing process. Just because you’re in the starting lineup on Nov. 1 doesn’t mean you’re going to be in the starting lineup on Feb. 11.”
A realist when it comes to the process of building a winning program, Swanson said he believes in “baby steps.” As much as he’d like it to happen, the odds are against a team improving from, say, eight victories to 20 in one season. But, he added, he wouldn’t be here if he didn’t believe the components for a bright future weren’t already present.
“That challenge is to build – and sustain,” he said. “I don’t want to win one CAA championship and the next year we go back. I want to build and sustain and the framework is here for me to recruit the student-athletes I want to recruit. We have the facilities and campus and obviously, the academics here are second to none. We can lure some top players here."