Harvard's Very Own Coach K

Kathy Delaney-Smith Has Special Bonds On and Off Court

The great Vince Lombardi once said, "Winning is a habit." For Harvard women's basketball coach Kathy Delaney-Smith, it seems that winning is a habit she can't quite shake.

In a career which has spanned over 25 years--the last 15 at Harvard--Delaney-Smith has garnered incomparable success. Beyond her impressive accomplishments on the court, there is an engaging and generous side to Kathy Delaney-Smith off the court.

The very characteristics that make the Crimson's head coach a champion in basketball have allowed her to forge uniquely meaningful relationships with her family, her players and her community. In fact, upon a careful examination of Delaney-Smith's personality, one finds a determined and caring individual who is as deeply sensitive as she is successful.

The first thing one notices about Kathy Delaney-Smith is her magnetic personality. Her mere presence conveys an unmistakable confidence which is surpassed only by the subtle blend of sincerity and witty humor in her words. However, she admits that this self-assurance was not always present.

"I was very shy [in high school]," says Delaney-Smith. "It was so painful to live that way that I just said, 'Screw it! I don't care what people think about me.' I just was very, very shy. No one believes that because I am entirely different now."

Today, Delaney-Smith possesses a candid demeanor, and she is not afraid to speak her mind. But she describes her character, more importantly, as "fair," and this trait becomes evident in the bonds she forms with her players.

Delaney-Smith has that rare ability to blend authority with friendship when dealing with her players, creating special relationships with them. She calls this an "informal" style of coaching and stresses its importance in developing a chemistry between the players themselves.

"My big thing is roles, team spirit and a do-it-for-the-team-put-your-self-second kind of thing," Delaney-Smith says. "When [your opponents are] playing above their level of ability, that's when you need to call on that chemistry, that cohesion, that rhythm. And if you don't have it, you're not going to win as many [games] as you can."

She admits that her coaching style is often criticized. For Delaney-Smith, however, it is a love of people that drives her in her professional career, and she is not about to change the way she works, especially while the results are so positive.

"I am in the profession because I love the people and the women that I work with. If I felt that my informality equaled disrespect... then I would change, but it doesn't. My satisfaction is my relationship with my players. If I'm supposed to be more distant, then I would leave the profession."

Beyond the personal rewards, Delaney-Smith's method of coaching has translated into success with which no one can argue. Before coming to Harvard in 1982, she compiled a spectacular 204-31 record at Westwood (MA) High School.

She led Westwood to six undefeated regular seasons, one state championship and a stretch of 96 consecutive regular season victories. From the high school ranks she went on to revive a struggling Division I college basketball program.

The year before Delaney-Smith came to Harvard, the Crimson posted a dismal record of 4-21. Within four years of Delaney-Smith's arrival, Harvard completed a 20-win season and captured its first ever Ivy League Title.

Since then, the Crimson has won four more Ivy championships (including back-to-back crowns the last two seasons), earned two consecutive NCAA Tournament berths and made history this season by becoming the first team ever to complete an undefeated Ivy League season. Delaney-Smith is now the all-time winningest basketball coach--men's or women's--in Harvard history with 214 career victories.

That is not a bad showing for someone who originally had no desire to coach basketball. Still, Delaney-Smith is not impressed.