Stephanie Gaitley’s turnaround at Fordham is the latest of her coaching career

first_img Comments Driving home from one of his mother’s basketball games 23 years ago, 9-year-old Dutch Gaitley just wanted a McDonald’s Happy Meal.  Stephanie Gaitley snapped. Her St. Joseph’s women’s basketball team had lost by 12 to Tennessee, after blowing a 16 point lead. Her team’s premature halftime celebration was squandered by legendary head coach Pat Summitt and the Volunteers.“What on my face says ‘Happy?’” Gaitley remembered saying to her son.Gaitley’s youngest son at the time, 3-year old D.C. Gaitley, leaned his head over the backseat, and said “Mom, it’s a game. Get over it.” Her demeanor changed. Gaitley laughed with her kids in the car, not taking herself too seriously. So they headed to McDonald’s. It’s taken more than 30 years of coaching — which included her firing after a major scandal at St. Joseph’s school — for Gaitley to hone in her loose, free attitude. She became a head coach for the first time at age 25 and turned five different programs around. Fordham is the latest. On Saturday afternoon, Gaitley will lead her No. 14-seed Rams (25-8, 13-3 Atlantic 10) against No. 3-seed Syracuse (24-8, 11-5 Atlantic Coast) in the Carrier Dome. After six postseason appearances in eight seasons at Fordham, Gaitley’s already cemented her place in Fordham history, and it’s all started with her frame of mind. “People often say, ‘Why do your teams win? How do you go and turn around a program?’” Gaitley said. “The No. 1 thing was how you treat people. You come in, you make everybody feel good about themselves.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textCourtesy of Fordham AthleticsBut at Fordham, unlike her past programs, it was a daunting task. Three years before Gaitley arrived, the Rams went winless, 0-29. Monmouth, Gaitley’s previous school, made the WNIT in 2011 and was trending upward. Fordham looked like a rebuild, more difficult than anything before, and her colleagues at Monmouth thought she was crazy.After Gaitley’s first practice with the Rams, all she wanted to do was find the local bar. Fordham didn’t have the talent to compete in the A-10, and there were only a few pieces she could build around. “Holy, I’m in for a freakin’ long, long, long turnaround,” Gaitley thought to herself. She started to second-guess her decision. Before, losing wasn’t part of Gaitley’s identity. At Ocean City (New Jersey) High School, she was part of a 100-game winning streak in league play. At each of her four head coaching stops before Fordham, Gaitley finished with more wins her final full season than her first. At three of them, that was accompanied by a postseason tournament berth.But in 2001, winning became an afterthought for Gaitley. She was coaching at St. Joseph’s when a former player accused her husband and assistant coach Frank Gaitley of sexual harassment. The former player also accused Stephanie Gaitley of “retaliating against (the victim) for going to school officials with her accusations,” according to an Associated Press article. After Gaitley refused to resign, she was fired.“I didn’t want to get back into coaching,” Gaitley said. “When you’re in that moment, you don’t think you’re going to get out of it, because you’re in so much pain and you’re kind of shocked on people and everything.”Courtesy of Fordham AthleticsGaitley’s coaching mentor, Rick Bernhardt, a former high school coach in Pennsylvania, called her the next year and told Gaitley she needed to get back “on the horse.” Gaitley had worked in TV the previous year and loved it because she didn’t care who won. But she wasn’t sure about returning. It took John Suarez, Long Island University athletic director, to ask about a return to coaching before Gaitley accepted.Two teams and nine years later, she needed to teach the Rams to hate losing. She inherited a “broken group,” and they needed “hugs and love.” Gaitley knew that the quickest way to fix a program was to show her passion.“They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” Gaitley said. She resurrected her coaching career at Long Island University, continued it at Monmouth and set a new bar at Fordham. Two years after taking over, the Rams were predicted to finish near the bottom of A-10 poll, and ended with the program’s first 20-win season since 1979 and a third round matchup in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.She’s Fordham’s leader for career wins and second in the A-10. Gaitley became the face of Fordham’s program.One of her pregame traditions is a joke in the pregame huddle, and two Sundays ago, Fordham gathered before the A-10 championship game against top-seeded VCU. “Why did the toilet paper get stuck when it was rolling down the hill?” Gaitley asked. Everybody shook their heads, no clue what to answer.“Because it got stuck in the crack,” she said. Everyone burst out in laughter. A couple hours later, Fordham raised its third A-10 championship trophy under Gaitley. Her teams have learned to not take themselves too seriously, just like Gaitley. Published on March 23, 2019 at 1:10 am Contact Andrew: [email protected] | @CraneAndrewcenter_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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