Athletics Communications
By Athletics Communications
University of Oklahoma
DECEMBER 04, 2013
FROM THE DESK OF... SHERRI COALE takes a look inside the office and behind the desk of Oklahoma Head Women's Basketball Coach Sherri Coale, to get an idea of what she keeps close by and why, and to understand what she does outside the time she gets to spend coaching her players.

"I think every morning, like most people, we have our e-mail on our phone, but I sit down at the computer to see what is most urgent, what I need to handle. I return phone calls. I file things.

"I am actually very meticulous about that. I map out my work week on Sunday night and then I map out each day the night before. My days are mapped out, not in order of priority, but in order of logistics, of what I have to do first, second, and so on. I’m big on finding windows. Here’s a window where I have an hour and a half.  I block that and that’s going to be for this or that. Sometimes this is going through that mail pile and answering e-mails. And then, sometimes that hour and a half is for planning. And it just depends. But I’m very big on putting down the things I have to get done one a given day. I have a strong distaste for wasted time. I have done that for as long as I can remember. I remember, as a high school kid, writing down that I needed to read this play and do my algebra homework and practice typing for 30 minutes and shoot 100 shots. I’ve planned, written down my day ahead for as long as I can remember."

Practice concluded half-an-hour ago. It’s 3:47 p.m. and Sherri Coale and director of operations Guy Austin are discussing the prices on a catering menu for a holiday gathering. Pork, beef or chicken? What type of salad dressing? These are the pressing questions of the moment for the Sooners’ head women’s basketball coach as the duo seeks a compromise to fit within their budget.

"I keep the door open as much as I possibly can because I want to see players walk by, I want to yell at people…in a nice way."

"I keep the door open as much as I possibly can because I want to see players walk by, I want to yell at people…in a nice way…and I like to be accessible to my staff. I like to make it feel like they can come and ask a question or meander through. And when that is the case, there are lots and lots of interruptions but I view that as an important part of having this space, is that it be accessible to people. However, when I shut the door, and play my favorite Pandora station (currently James Morrison Radio) and get the legal pad, set up film on my TV, this place becomes that island where problems get solved and plans get made and visions get cast and all that. But it’s really only when that door is closed."

In 20 minutes, the work will change to revisiting the statistical report of the day’s practice. Then it’s returning a phone call to a member of the NCAA Basketball Committee seeking opinions on changing legislation. There’s also planning for a fundraising event and preparing teaching notes for her college course, Leading the Student-Athlete, before she leaves at 5 p.m. to watch her daughter’s basketball game. However, there’s one challenge Coale rarely defeats in a single work day…

"Massive amounts of e-mail. My e-mail is ridiculous. What you answer, what you keep, what you need to file, what you need to read, what you don’t have to read -- just the laborious nature of it. I feel like the ratio of what matters to what doesn’t matter in that inbox is so infinitely imbalanced that it’s not worth my time sometimes. Any paperwork…it’s necessary, but it’s not what I would say is incredibly important in terms of what really matters at the end of the day. I’m terrible at organizing it. There have been 390 (unread messages) easily. Probably a number of times. I can go for days. I went on vacation a couple of years ago in the summer, just went to a beach. There was no TV or anything, but I did have internet. Every morning I would just get up and file, purge, move and I got it to empty. It’s not now, but I did for a little bit."

Coale has been in the company of world leaders and displays photos with her favorite celebrities and mentors such as Katie Couric, Kay Yow, Jody Conradt, James Garner, Bono, Waymon Tisdale and Mary Jane Noble, but the photos that litter her office are those of her family, and the families of those closest to her.

"Hotel California... It sort of has become a moniker for our program. That’s how we feel about all these kids. You go away but you never really leave."

"It’s why I do what I do. I feel like I’m surrounded by people that my life is connected to and it reminds me, if I’m tired or a little bit down or distracted, that there’s a reason to be great today. Because all these people expect it and deserve it. This board is my favorite because it is all the kids from all the kids I’ve coached. So I’m like the Old Woman in the Shoe, I have 140 grandchildren. Every time I get an updated card or photo from a former athlete -- there are people who work for me too -- I stick those pictures up there because it helps remind me through this program we have helped produce some pretty amazing people. That always seems to re-center me to whatever the task is at hand. However big the problem is you have to solve, I can do this, because, look at all these guys."

Now in her 18th season at the University of Oklahoma, Coale’s office has grown as a treasure trove of memorabilia, a suite for impromptu therapy sessions, and the workplace for day-to-day tasks. This is where the CEO of one of the powerhouse programs in college athletics does her business.

"Everything in here matters. I don’t keep anything that doesn’t matter. So whether it’s a little Army man from Caton Hill or a little Mountain Dew can for the signed softball from our national championship team or whatever it is, everything in here has a purpose. I do have books in a certain place so I know when I need a quote book or a basketball book or I need a psychology book or whatever. So, yes, there’s a method to placement."

"My dad drew this. He was a big Norman Rockwell fan and a fantastic artist and I kept that."

Coale often shows her appreciation by hand-writing notes.  She estimates she’ll write 50 per week. Often, she tasks herself this whenever there is free time. Bus trips or flights are important moments to find the space and clarity to craft these messages.

"I just think it’s one of the biggest little things you can do, and anybody can do it. I have lived just long enough to receive the rewards from having done it. It’s so easy. I spend about 20 minutes a day. I keep a running tally of whom I’m going to write. I’m getting new-wave if I kind of keep it on my phone now. I kind of keep it in a notebook in my purse but I’m trying to transition over to the phone. It’s funny if that’s always in the back of your mind, how many people you know just that you need to appreciate or a fan has been diagnosed with cancer and needs a boost, but these things come across and I write them down not to forget. I refill this caddy probably every two weeks. I go through a lot of notecards."

With just the slightest swivel, Coale’s point of view sees every object in its place except for one. This quote, handwritten and framed, is for the guests: “FIGHT ONE MORE round. When your feet are so tired that you have to shuffle back to the center of the ring, fight one more round. When your arms are so tired that you can hardly lift your hands to come on guard, fight one more round. When your nose is bleeding and your eyes are black and you are so tired that you wish your opponent would crack you one on the jaw and put you to sleep, fight one more round -- remembering that the man who always fights on more round is never whipped. – James J. Corbett.”  On the back, Coale placed her grandmother’s obituary.

"I like the message. I want, particularly our players, but anyone to see that and to remember how important it is to fight. Then, on the back of that, is my granny. And that’s what I get to see. And I think she was the ultimate fighter. So those two things go together for me."

"We said years ago, I think we were in our third year in, when Deren Boyd was on the scout team and Tara DeGuisti was our manager, and when they were getting ready to graduate we were like, ‘We’ve got to go find jobs for them because they are just too great.’ Yet we found ways to put them in the athletic department and both became just superstar human beings. Stacy Hansmeyer bought me that sign for Christmas because we called ourselves the Hotel California. It sort of has become a moniker for our program. That’s how we feel about all these kids. You go away but you never really leave. That’s a pretty significant thing. It had to go right there."

"I just finished “Eleven Rings” (by Phil Jackson). I’ve been messing around with “The Difference Maker” (John C. Maxwell). I’ve read it before; I’m just looking through it for stuff. I just read Delia Ephron’s “Sister Mother Husband Dog (etc.)” I read that on Thanksgiving Day. Then I’m reading “The Forest for the Trees” (Betsy Lerner), it’s a book on writing. It’s about 400 pages and I’m on 290."

"To learn and to be reminded. I forget so much. There are people who I really think have it pegged, they’ve figured it out. I think John Maxwell is one of those in terms of leadership. I don’t know that anybody is better than him. I have different authors for different purposes. If I want to move an individual from one spot to another, Beth Godin is an author who writes fairly quick, easy Jon Gordon-ish books. Those two guys, you know, you have a kid who’s struggling here, go read “The Energy Bus.” Just quick little things. There are more complex ones. I love Bob Rotella, who is the golf guru. His psychology of not sabotaging yourself and put yourself in the zone, I love reading his stuff. I have various folks that I go back to. I have the Wooden group, John McPhee’s “A Sense of Where You Are” is one of the best all-time books, Pete Carril’s “The Smart Take from the Strong” is one of the best books ever, that you can just go back to and pull useful bits."