Tiffany Smart was itching to run a program of her own.
After nine seasons as an assistant coach — the last four of which were spent at Seton Hall University — Smart felt the time had come to spread her wings and take on greater responsibility.
Then a job opening came at Mount Saint Vincent, and Smart took the leap.
“I had never heard of Mount Saint Vincent before,” Smart said.
But fans of the women’s basketball team will certainly get to know her as she gets ready to take on her biggest challenge yet.
“This will be my 10th season coaching, so I thought it was time for me to run my own program,” Smart said. “It also allowed me the opportunity to also slow down a little. There was a lot of travelling at Seton Hall. Now I have a two-year old, I’m married, and I have a baby on the way. So this was the right place for me.”
Smart said it’s been a bit of a whirlwind since being hired in early September, just a month before practices began. But she likes what she’s finding with her new roster.
“I wasn’t able to recruit, and we’ve gone from a team that had 17 or 18 players last year to one that has 13 this year,” Smart said.
“And they graduated two of the best players to ever play here last year. I took over a program that was successful last year but I only have one starter back. So these are kids who are very unsure about themselves, and they’ve been through some coaching changes, but when I stepped in I’d say they bought in from the first meeting we had.”
They come in to do extra work, Smart added, and they want to do individual workouts and they want to watch film.
“They want to win,” she said. “They’re from a winning culture, and they want to do whatever they need to do to win this year.”
One main area Smart believes her time at Seton Hall will help is with recruiting. And that’s something she’ll have to jump on sooner rather than later to bolster what Smart called a short roster.
“I met a lot of people at the Division I level, so I have a lot of contacts,” she said. “When I got to Seton Hall, they had only won eight games the year before, And then in the first three years I was there, we won 71 games. So for a program that hadn’t been successful I had to learn how to recruit and sell a program that no one knew about or believed in. So that helped me be a better recruiter.”
While the roster numbers might not be to Smart’s liking, the attitude and determination of her players gives the new coach a foundation on which to build her program.
“I don’t look at this as a rebuilding year,” Smart said. “We didn’t look at it as a rebuilding year at Seton Hall when I got there. We stepped in and won 20 games that season with the same group of kids that won eight games the year before. So my expectations are to come in and win.
“I like the girls that we have, and they have made it easier on me with their willingness to learn and to get better. This is the first time in my 10 seasons coaching that collectively everyone has been on the same page. They hold each other accountable. There’s no one on the team that doesn’t work hard. They all want to get better and that has made the transition to head coach so much easier for me. It’s been a blessing.”
Smart will be blessed again come January when her second child is due. It will be smack in the middle of the Skyline Conference season, but Smart is not stressing over it.
“It was not expected,” Smart said, laughing. “It was out of the blue. When I found out, I was like, ‘Oh gosh. OK.’ But this was a great opportunity, so I was thinking, ‘OK, I’m pregnant. Do I take this position? Because how can I juggle all of this going on in my first year?’”
But The Mount has been very supportive from the beginning, Smart said. And one of her assistants, Robin Dolan, also stepped up when she was needed.
“She’s helped me out a lot,” Smart said. “So we’ve been rocking and rolling.”