Rare is the coach who embraces the balance of student and athlete like Sherri Coale. Even fewer teams have had success while emphasizing the books on the same level as the balls.
The symmetry is a trademark of Coale's program.
She meticulously prepares her athletes to excel in the classroom and on the hardwood. In essence, master the game of life and the challenges presented on the court will fall like dominoes.
Those obstacles have routinely been bulldozed during Coale's 19 years as the head coach of Oklahoma.
The numbers speak for themselves.
Take for example the six Big 12 Regular Season Championships, 54 All-Big 12 Team selections, the 92 Academic All-Big 12 honors, the four Big 12 Tournament Championships, the 14 All-District Academic Team members, the 16 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, the four Academic All-America Team Members, 13 All-Americans and nine Sweet 16 appearances.
The foundation was laid years ago during a humble upbringing in the oil mining town of Healdton, Okla. Those morals have stood as the roots of Oklahoma women's basketball for more than a decade.
Now they are flourishing on an elite level.
So as the Sooners sit on the cusp of a season with the biggest national spotlight in program history already glaring in their eyes, Coale and company are sticking to their roots.
And the success that comes with them.
By the conclusion of the greatest run in program history, OU had produced its best record in school and Big 12 Conference history (32-4); won its third consecutive Big 12 regular season title; ended the season with its highest ranking ever (No. 2 in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches polls); and captured its first NCAA Regional and Big 12 Tournament titles.
That season, Coale also had three players selected in the first round of the WNBA draft: Stacey Dales (3rd/Washington); LaNeishea Caufield (14th/Utah); and Rosalind Ross (16th/Los Angeles).
Oklahoma revisited the record books in 2009 with another 32-win season. The Sooners completed another trek through the Big 12, resulting in its sixth season championship, and the Oklahoma City Regional.
The Sooners finished the season No. 4 in the polls following a buzzer-beating heartbreak in the national semifinals to Louisville.
The Sooners' 2010 Final Four run was defined by resiliency as the team was healing from the graduation of two of its most productive players in history and the loss of Whitney Hand to a season-ending ACL injury after five games.
Still Coale, referred to as many as her best coaching effort to date, guided the Sooners to their second straight national semifinals appearance.
Packing The Lloyd Noble Center
The top 50 largest crowds to see women's basketball all occurred during Sherri Coale's tenure, including the record 12,205 that attended OU's 2008 win against Oklahoma State. The Sooners first surpassed the 10,000 attendance mark on Dec. 29, 1999, against top-ranked Connecticut (10,713 fans). In 2008-09, OU drew more than 10,000 in six different home games.
As the victories came, so did Sooner fans. Nearly two million have watched an OU women's basketball game since Coale's arrival. Coale produced her first winning season in 1999 as OU played in front of 1,558 fans per game. Her 2002 Final Four team drew an impressive 6,606 fans per game and all of the attendance records have been re-written as last year's average shot to 9,007.
But Coale's plan isn't just taking place on the hardwood floor of Lloyd Noble Center. She has worked hard to show the public that the athletic and academic pursuits of OU players should be challenged to the fullest. All the while, she was making sure her players understood that the methods and rules of her program would make them better athletes and better students who would be able to adapt to the outside world once school was completed.
One of Coale's proudest moments was when former Sooner standout Stacey Dales became OU's first player to earn Academic and Athletic All-America honors in the same season (2001-02). Dales also was voted the 2002 Verizon Academic Student-Athlete of the Year for all NCAA Division I sports. Dales was later joined on the Academic All-America list by Theresa Jantzen in 2003 and Caton Hill in 2004.
Paris set a record nearly every time she stepped on the court. She was the first four-time All-American by the Associated Press and U.S. Basketball Writers' Association and the first college basketball player ever, regardless of gender or division, to record 2,500 career points and 2,000 career rebounds.
Paris ended her career owning 20 NCAA, 57 Big 12 Conference and 69 Oklahoma records -- her most famous being a streak of consecutive games with a double-double that lasted 112 games.
Stacey Dales became Coale's first Olympian and the school's first two-time Kodak first team All-America selection. She played on the 2000 Canadian National Basketball team that participated in the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. Dales also repeated her Big 12 Player of the Year and All-Big 12 first team honors in 2001 and 2002.
In addition to these two standout players, Coale has coached three players to Big 12 Player of the Year honors five times, 19 players to all-conference honors 43 times and four players to First-Team All-America status. She has also developed 13 players into WNBA draft selections: Dales, Caufield, Ross, Maria Villarroel (2004); Phylesha Whaley (2000); Dionnah Jackson (2005); Leah Rush (2007); Ashley and Courtney Paris (2009); Abi Olajuwon, Nyeshia Stevenson and Amanda Thompson (2010), Danielle Robinson (2011) and Whitney Hand (2013).
Caufield also repeated her All-Big 12 second team honors en route to earning honorable mention Kodak accolades. Hill and Ross appeared on the All-Big 12 third team, while Dales and Jackson were voted to the Big 12 All-Tournament team. Caufield was voted the Defensive Player of the Year by the Women's Basketball News Service and was selected as a Defensive All-American by the Women's Basketball Journal in 2001. Jackson, after appearing on the All-Big 12 second team for two seasons, received first team All-Big 12 honors and honorable mention Kodak All-America honors for the 2005 season.
Coale and her Sooners have also been honored by USA Basketball. During the summer of 2005, the Sooner mentor was named to the USA Basketball Committee by the NCAA. She served on the national board through 2008.
Previously, Coale had served as an assistant coach on the 2001 USA Basketball Women's Junior World Championship Team that won a bronze medal in Brno, Czech Republic, in July 2001.
Leah Rush made her debut with USA Basketball when she was invited to the 2005 USA Basketball Women's National Team Trials. Rush, an Amarillo, Texas, native, was one of the 16 finalists for a spot on the USA World University Games Team.
Ashley and Courtney Paris had international experience before they even donned a Sooner uniform. Both earned gold medals on the 2004 USA Basketball Youth Development Festival West Team. The twins were also invited to tryouts for the 2004 Junior National Team, 2005 USA U19 World Championship Team and the 2006 USA U20 World Championship Team. Courtney went on to make all three teams and earned three gold medals in three international tournaments with the squads. Courtney Paris was the youngest member of the U.S. Senior National Team in 2008.
Welch and Hill represented OU and USA Basketball during the summers of 2003 and 2001, respectively. Welch, a native of Plainview, Texas, was one of 12 Big 12 All-Stars who represented USA Basketball during the 2003 World University games. Hill was Coale's first player to make a USA Basketball squad. The former Ada, Okla., standout helped the United States to a gold medal at the 2001 World University Games in Beijing, China.
Danielle Robinson won gold with the 2009 World University Games team and was invited to participate with the USA National Team in its 2010 spring training.
Each player under Coale's supervision has participated in the Sooner Big Sis Program, a program that enables players to volunteer their time as mentors and teacher's aides to elementary schools in the Norman community.
In addition, each season the team gives back to the community by volunteering its time to a non-profit organization. In 2010, the team was involved with Norman's Food and Shelter for Friends, caring for the more than 600 homeless and transitioning families in the local area and, in 2011, OU teamed with ABLE - Able Bodies Learning to Excel.
In previous years, the team has volunteered with the Mary Abbott Children's House, Habitat for Humanity, the Oklahoma City's Children's Hospital, J.D. McCarthy Center for Children with Developmental Disabilities in Norman, the Children's Miracle Network, the CCFI, the United Way's "Meals on Wheels," Race for the Cure and the Norman Women's Resource Center and Battered Women's Shelter.
Additionally, the women's basketball team and many other OU programs have made it an annual event to help host and run the Norman area Special Olympics.
Beginning Sept. 1, 2012, Coale began an appointment to the board of directors of the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, joining those responsible for the fund's strategic leadership and governance.
The next stop was as the head coach of the Norman High School girls' basketball team from 1990-96.
The OU transformation that Coale has spearheaded is strikingly similar to the changes she made at Norman High. She took a declining program and after an 11-12 performance in 1990, her debut season, the Lady Tigers never had a losing record under her tutelage. By the time she left for OU, Coale had directed NHS to two Class 6A state championships and a 147-40 career record. Her final two Norman teams went 53-2. Coale was honored as the region, all-state and Big All-City High School Coach of the Year in 1993.
Through the success of her high school teams, Coale had several players earn NCAA Division I basketball scholarships, including Stacy Hansmeyer to Connecticut (1997-2000), Sarah Dimson to Stanford (1998-2001) and Sunny Hardeman (1998-01) and Shannon Selmon (1999-2002) to Oklahoma.
After being out of the high school ranks for six years, Hansmeyer and Coale were inducted into Norman High School Hall of Fame together in February 2002.
For Coale's life accomplishments, the community of Healdton, Okla., declared August 26, 2001, as "Sherri Coale Day."
Coale isn't the only coach in her household. Her husband Dane, whom she met while at OCU, was formerly the head baseball coach at Purcell High School. She married the former OCU baseball player in June 1987. The couple has two children, son Colton, 21, and daughter, Chandler, 17. The former Sherri Buben and her brother, Jack, are the children of Beverly Stash and Joe Buben. Jack has 13-year-old twins, Jackson and Jaycie.