The Phil Seymore Interview

Friar Insider recently had an opportunity to check in with the Coach of the Providence College women's basketball team, Phil Seymore. In this interview, Coach Seymore gives a candid assessment of his first year as Friars head coach, and discusses his goals and approach to building a winning program in the Big East.

With one year under his belt, Phil Seymore has navigated what he hopes will be his toughest season as head coach. While the Friars won only eight games in his first year, Coach Seymore believes a new attitude and work ethic has been infused into the Friar program, laying the foundation for future success. Coach Seymore encourages Friar fans to come out and see Friars, as they work their way back to the success they enjoyed in the earlier years of the Big East. We hope you enjoy the interview.

S.H.: Coach, now that you have your first season behind you, what do you think surprised you the most about being the head coach for the women's basketball team at Providence?

Coach Seymore: Already being very familiar with the College when I accepted the position, I really wasn't expecting all that many surprises. I was looking forward to the challenge ahead of me and was focused on getting my players ready and prepared for the season. I went in with the same coaching approach with the players that I've always had, but I was surprised at how well they responded to my approach. I'm not much of a yeller, but I make my points very clearly in order to get my message across. I discovered early on that that my players really embraced the team concept; they did not have any problems understanding the importance of togetherness on and off the court.

Seeing the off the court unity was probably my biggest surprise. Coaching men over the years, they were always happy to get a break from the rigors of working with the coaches and enjoyed some quiet time on their own. However, these young women really looked forward to spending down time with the coaches just having some fun together. That was not what I was expecting straight out but was something I had to adapt to very quickly. I think it's made me a better coach because it's given me some insight as to how best to communicate with my players and how to help them develop within the team concept. My wife tells me I've changed over the past year in how I communicate with my daughter. She thinks I'm a better listener now and understand her perspective much better. I don't see a big difference in how I act but it's a positive so I'm not about to disagree with her…

S.H.: Was your 1st season easier or more difficult than you expected?

Coach Seymore: To be honest, we had some adversity at the beginning that made for a tough start to the year. We lost Jill Furstenburg to transfer before the season started and had to deal with a rash of injuries early on, some of which were stress fractures. We lost like seven of our first eight games and I was getting really stressed and frustrated over it while trying to keep the players focused only on the next game. I had to keep myself focused on the right things as well. I even had a talk with Bob Driscoll about maintaining balance and keeping the right perspective which I think really helped. We got through that tough early stretch, but I think the players really learned a lot and it showed when we played Rhode Island, which was the real turning point in the season.

Up until that point, we would often get a lead, only to see it slip away in the second half and leaving us with a loss. However, against URI, the team was down and fought back, taking the lead against a good Ram team and holding on for the victory. That showed me their developing mental toughness and the progress they had made together since the start of the year. After that win, the team went on to winning five in row which did a lot for their confidence. Although they would struggle some the rest of the season, I think that in the URI win they shook off the mentality that had hung over the program for too long a time.

S.H.: How much of a talent and/or skills gap you feel that Friars still have to make up in the big East after one year of rebuilding?

Coach Seymore: That's a tough question to answer because we go into every game playing to win, and the players now believe that any game is winnable. The team was competitive this year, even though the record showed a lot of losses. That said, there were a few teams that just beat us on talent alone this past year, and we still have a ways to go before in that regard. Teams like Uconn, Rutgers, Marquette, Pittsburgh, and St. John's were all very talented last year, and without any veteran experience, front court height, or depth, it was tough at times. But I am encouraged... the incoming class this fall is my first real recruiting class and that alone is going to help make up some of our weaknesses from last year. We're getting there, and the key to keep working together and improving.

S.H.: Is recruiting becoming a little easier now that the program has again earned some respect within the conference?

Coach Seymore: It was not an easy sell this first season given the recent history. High school kids have short memories and I had to explain to them how things are turning around now both on the court and facility wise. Our record wasn't all that good as a sales point, but when I explain to recruits how we're improving and competing once again, they see how the program is coming along. We really had to go after players that were diamonds in the rough because we weren't in a position to compete with a lot of programs initially because of the program had experienced some down times.

We're still not getting what I call ‘ready-made' players like Uconn or Rutgers is bringing in. However, we recently got a significant verbal from a player that could have played for a lot of good programs, and I was real happy about that because it showed that we may be starting to turn the corner on the recruiting trail now.

S.H.: Will the strength and fitness center help you recruit and how important is weight training in women's basketball?

It's very important and it's already helping us out big time. Last year, all I had to sell was an idea and some plans. Now the place is going up and recruits who are joining us today will be here to actually use the facility. You've got to sell everything you've got on campus, whether it's a new training facility, nice new dorms, or a down to earth college President who loves athletics and happens to be a black belt too. It all explains what this College is all about. Because the players we recruit are sometimes less developed than the ones at the most successful programs, we need to build up their bodies and skills so they can compete at the highest level. The strength and fitness center will help us accomplish that for our players while providing a great facility for all of the students at Providence College. This upgrade was very much needed and the bottom line is that people are just happier to be on this campus when they have the tools they need to succeed in academics, and in sports as well.

S.H.: Last year you said the goal for year one was skill development and improved conditioning. What goals have you added for this season?

Coach Seymore: Last year's goals are definitely still important and always are going to be important parts of what we do here. However, last year we did sustain some injuries early on, and a few of them were stress fracture related so we're going to have to be careful in how we conduct our conditioning drills this year to avoid a repeat of that type of situation. As far as a focusing on a new goal this year, I would have to say that I am really going to talk about the importance of making sacrifices for the team and working together to create a strong bond up and down the roster. Good team chemistry is going to be critical for the team to reach its potential this year. We're going to be adding some talented young players this year, and we want to avoid any sort of situation where the team breaks off into camps of younger vs. older players.

I am going to tell each individual on my team that you play for Providence College. This is not an individual audition for the WNBA. This is the Big East and you need to play as a team to win anything. This is about a group of players, joining together, and using all of their ability and energies to achieve something special collectively. No one can do it here alone. Especially going up against the teams we're going to have to play each time out in this league. Sacrifice and teamwork are going to be so important for all our players to keep in mind if they are going to accomplish anything during the season. So yes, building team chemistry is going to be a key because it will help to successfully mix in the new players with the veterans and make working together as a team that much easier as we go along.

SH.: Some your players really exceeded expectations last year. Chelsea Marandola making the All Freshman team certainly was accomplishment. Did the players exceed your expectations?

Coach Seymore: I knew Chelsea was a good player before I started coaching the team but I hadn't seen her play much so I wasn't sure how much of an impact she would make in her first season. The same was really true of the entire team. I had no history with them so everyone started fresh with me. The past was over with as far as I was concerned and they all an opportunity to start over and show me they were dedicated to our team and putting in the work to be their best. So basically I had no real expectations of what the players should be able to do other than to give their best effort and take instruction from the coaching staff.

This upcoming season is going to be a different story. I've had a year to recruit my own players and a year to work with the players who are already here. Those who were here last season know what I expect them to work on and improve for the coming year. I want them to expect a lot of themselves, and to be the best they can be with our help. Our players want to win, so I know they'll do their best to improve their skill level, raising the bar of achievement on the basketball court. As a player, you've got to keep working on your game, always making yourself more valuable to your teammates.

S.H.: How will this year's group of recruits make the team more competitive in the league?

Coach Seymore: The new recruits are going to make an instant impact because we have a lot of needs on our team right now. We're going to be adding height, size, and strength to the roster for starters. We've got three players coming between 6-4 and 6-6 which we badly need because we basically played without a true center last year when you combine the injuries and a lack of height. That is going to make our defense that much better.

On the offense side of things, our post play on offense will improve, something we really weren't able to do enough of last year. Another thing we'll add offensively will be a point guard. While Chelsea learned to play the point for us last year, she had her struggles with turnovers early on so an added ball handler will take some of those responsibilities off her shoulders. Finally, we going to have depth, which a lack of last year may have cost us some close games. Keeping players fresh and at their best is important in these tough Big East games. Being able to go to the bench and have options really makes a difference.

S.H.: Have you established the type of offense and defensive sets you're looking to run or are you still experimenting with different styles as the team is still young and developing?

Coach Seymore: No, we've put in place what we call our "Two Guard Offense". People have said that we try and slow things down but that's really not the case if you look at the numbers the team put up all season. It's just that we move the ball around and work for best shot.

S.H.: So are you basically running the type of offense that John Beilein employs on his West Virginia team?

Coach Seymore: Yes, it's about good ball movement, pulling the other team's center away from the basket, using backdoor cuts to the basket, and hitting open outside shots. The offense we used also took advantage of our strengths and our lack of size at the center position. On the defense side of the ball, we've mixed up our defense between man to man and zone defense. We'll stick with that this year but with the added depth, we may consider some sort of press to force some turnovers.

S.H.: How do you see the Big East generally shaping up this year and which teams will the Friars really need to beat in order to make gains in the league standings this season?

Coach Seymore: That's really tough to say because there are a lot of quality teams who can challenge near the top of league. There is still an elite of Uconn and Rutgers, but you know Pitt, St. John's, and Notre Dame are also very tough at times. I really see Pitt coming on as a program with their facilities. The gap is closing in the league and in women's college basketball as a whole. I sort of see it where Europe was in men's basketball a number of years ago. Each year, the talent and level of play seems to get a little better. There are some very good athletes playing the women's game today and our league is a very tough one. I'm not going to think about who we need to beat because we go into every game playing to win. You know, a lot of people don't give us much of a chance to beat Uconn for instance, but we're playing every game to win and you have to do that for each and every contest. It's the only way you'll get your team where they want be. You've got to instill a winning mentality.

S.H.: You said in the past that you thought it would take 3-4 years to turn the program around get the Friars competing in the top 8 of the league. Do you still feel that assessment is accurate?

Coach Seymore: Looking ahead three years is a little difficult right now. So much can change in terms of your team and facilities as well as the other teams in the league. You can say you're going to be here or there a few years from now, but it doesn't mean anything until you go out there and do it. This league is extremely competitive and there are no easy wins. You've really got to work very hard to accomplish your goals. So, you have to concentrate on the here and now and get better every day. You have to work on making your team that much more prepared to compete today than they were a week ago. If you have that mentality and a stick with it, good things are going to happen and future will take care of itself.

S.H. Best of luck to you and your team in season number two, Coach. We'll look to catch up with you again as the new year progresses.

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