That was the case with Auburn's new women's basketball Coach Nell Fortner. Vacationing in South Florida after visiting with both Baird and Richardson last week for an interview, Fortner was surprised to find herself in Auburn today being announced as the successor to Coach Joe Ciampi in the Auburn program.
"Let me apologize for the way I dressed today," Fortner said Thursday afternoon. "I just came in from Key West and I did not know I was coming to Auburn when I went to Key West. I don't know about ya'll, but I don't bring a whole lot of clothes to Key West when I go there. So, I'm standing in front of you in an outfit bought at The Banana Republic. I have flip-flops on and I promise you that is not how I dress.
"I said ‘Hal, I have no clothes to do a press conference'. He said ‘go shopping Nell and I'll buy it for you. Go get what you need'. So Hal, here's the receipt. I took him up on that. Don't tell me to go shopping because I like to shop."
New Auburn Coach Nell Fortner
A veteran of the college game with experience in both International and Professional levels of basketball, Fortner takes over for Auburn's only women's coach since the NCAA began sanctioning women's basketball. The winningest coach in Women's USA Basketball history, with a 101-14 record including gold medals at both the 1998 World Championships and 2000 Olympic Games, who also won a Big 10 Title at Purdue, Fortner said that she's pleased to get back in the college game and is happy to be at a place like Auburn.
"I'm just honored and pleased to be here and I can't wait to get started," Fortner said. "I know this program is already in great shape, but to take it to another level is the challenge that I have in front of me. Me and the staff. It's something that I look forward to and that I will give my all to. I'm proud to be a part of the SEC. This is the best conference in the country for women's basketball. To be a part of that and to help that conference get better and continue to grow and be a forerunner for women's basketball, I'm proud to be a part of it."
The first order of business for Fortner on Thursday was a team meeting and then the business side of the job gets into full swing with decision to be made on the coaching staff that will join her in Auburn. Fortner said that she doesn't have any idea at this point what she will do on the staff, but that will be worked out in the next week so the staff can get busy trying to fill as many as three open signee spots in the spring period. If the 5/8 rule is lifted Fortner's first class could be as big as six players with the return of just six players on next year's team and two signees already in the fold.
"I have already been on the phone to find out where there are some players right now," Fortner said. "Outside of the team that is here right now that is my immediate concern."
Auburn women's basketball fans will see a much different style of play beginning next season than they have been used to under Ciampi the last 25 years. Instead of the match-up zone and set offense, Fortner said that she likes to turn the team loose and play an up-tempo style of game.
"I like to run," Fortner said. "I like to press. I like to play man-to-man defense. I will switch up my defenses, but I like an up-tempo game. I think it's a fun game. I think kids like to play that way and fans like to watch it. That's how I've always coached and those are the kinds of players that I will try to get in here that can play that style of basketball."
The coach of the WNBA's Indiana Fever the last three seasons, Fortner compiled a record of 42-56 and an appearance in the Eastern Conference playoffs in 2002. Despite her success on the International level and the drive to succeed in the pro game, Fortner said that coming back to a place like Auburn is something that is extremely exciting to her and she's ready for the opportunity to take the program to new heights.
"I have missed the college game," Fortner said. "I enjoyed my opportunity in the pros, but the college game is different. I love the players from that age group, 18-22, 23. There is so much growing and development for them. Working at ESPN was great, but Pat Summit told me I had a decision to make. She said ‘do you want to talk about the game or do you want to coach the game?' There was no doubt when she put it that way that I want to coach the game and be back around those players.
"I feel very honored to be following in the footsteps of Joe Ciampi. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Joe and I have known him a long time. It's an absolute honor. I stand here full of pride being proud to be a member of the Auburn family."