NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tom Garrick has paced the baselines of Memorial Gymnasium before. And while much has changed since he last did so in 2015, his experiences as a former assistant coach for Vanderbilt should pay dividends among a new staff in 2020-21.
“I think it has its benefits,” he said. “I kind of know what it was at its apex, in the heyday. When I came in they were rolling and we had a few good years of maintaining that. I remember the crowds here. I remember the following. I remember the support. And now with the new administration, that only adds to it. It was good before. I think it’s going to be better now.
“I think I will be able to reflect on the past to see where we can go in the future. It has obviously changed a lot, but there are some things that remain the same in a good way. So I think I’ll be able to add that piece of experience to it.”
Most recently the head coach at Massachusetts-Lowell, Garrick helped the Commodores reach the NCAA Tournament five times as an assistant coach during a 2009-15 stint in Nashville. He coached former Vandy standouts Jence Rhoads, Jasmine Lister and Christina Foggie, among others, while the Dores were one of the top programs inside the SEC.
Garrick then moved on to Boston College as an assistant before taking over the UMass-Lowell program. Along the way he met new Vanderbilt head coach Shea Ralph and the two became married.
The coaching duo brings decades of high-prowess coaching experience. Their two-year-old daughter Maysen is along for the ride, too.
They’ll all work together to assist Ralph’s first foray into being a head coach.
“The experience that I bring to the job will make her inception into being a head coach a little easier. We’ll be able to talk through some things that she might be confronted with,” Garrick said. “I won’t be heavy-handed in it, I’m going to let her do her thing, I’m going to let her figure it out, but it also serves as safe landing ground where I’ve been through it before and I can advise her when applicable.
“I’m not coming in here telling her what to do. This is your ship and I’m just aboard helping you navigate. When you need me, if you need me, she knows I’m there. I think that can provide a little bit of a safety net for her.”
Garrick has not only seen success inside Memorial Gymnasium but also as an assistant coach with the Rhode Island men’s basketball team and as head coach of the Rhode Island women’s basketball program. He also played for the Rams before becoming a member of Rhode Island’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
The former NBA Draft pick played nine years of professional basketball as well.
But as Garrick begins his second tenure in black and gold he understands the challenges that lie ahead for a program that hasn’t had a tremendous amount of success in recent seasons.
“You pull your boots up every day and you have faith in yourself and your abilities – and the kids who are already here who are going to be the biggest part of pushing us forward,” Garrick explained his approach. “We’ll recruit well. We’ll get kids down here who can compete in the SEC, but we need the kids who are here now. We don’t want to come in here and fall flat on our faces in the first year just because we’ve been left with, ‘the team that’s still here.’ No no no, we have the fortune of coaching the kids that are still here. They are still SEC athletes, so we just have to coach ‘em up and play as hard as we can and use the culture here.
“It might not look beautiful right away, but we’ll make inroads and it won’t take long to turn this around. It’s Vanderbilt.”
For Vanderbilt fans who have yet to witness Ralph’s coaching technique, Garrick is perhaps better suited than most to explain what Commodore Nation will witness come fall when the former Connecticut star and former UConn assistant coach steps onto the court for the first time as a head coach. He noted how her fierce competitiveness and drive to be a champion has always driven her – like when she had five anterior cruciate ligament surgeries as a player and still managed to become an WNBA Draft pick.
And more than anything, Garrick said, Ralph will lead her student-athletes off the court just as much as she will lead them on the court.
“She’s a really good person, she coaches for the right reasons, she wants the best for her student-athletes. But she’s a pit bull, too. She’s tenacious,” Garrick said. “She’s going to be a great teacher, a great recruiter, but more so she’s going to be a conduit for young women to bridge that gap between young adulthood and adulthood. That’s what she wants, that’s what was done for her and that’s where we have a common thread between our whole staff.
“We want to win. And we will. But on the way to winning it’s about developing young people. That’s where her heart lies.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.