Andy Landers, a legendary figure in the women's basketball universe, retired from his position as Lady Bulldog Basketball's first full-time head coach on Monday, March 16, 2015, following 36 seasons on almost unfathomable success.
Landers arrived in Athens as a 26-year-old with four seasons of junior college coaching experience in 1979 and left that position three and a half decades later after making UGA one of the nation's premier programs.
Individually, Landers etched his legacy along side some of college basketball's greatest coaching names. During his final season, Landers became just the seventh Division I basketball coach - women's or men's – to record 850 victories as a single NCAA institution. He joined names like Krzyzewski and Rupp and Auriemma and Summitt on that ledger.
But Landers' success wasn't measured simply by wins and losses. He did things the right way. During his tenure, every four-year letterwinner for the Lady Bulldogs earned a degree from the University of Georgia. A perfect 67 of 67. Some even earned multiple diplomas during extended seasons of eligibiity due to injuries.
Landers was like no other It's a late afternoon in mid-July of 2012 and a former Lady Bulldog is en route back to Athens for a quick visit. In the car is a bag of assorted home-grown vegetables intended for delivery to Andy Landers' house.
When the player drives up to Landers' home late in the day, she finds him in the midst of cutting his grass...with the same meticulous attention to detail that he uses to draw up a practice plan on a daily basis.
The obvious question has to be posed. How many collegiate head coaches in any sport who was then approaching their 800th win at a single school and 900th career victory overall could be found pushing a lawn mower?
The aforementioned anecdote tells you all you need to know about Andy Landers, the first and still only full-time women's basketball head coach in the University of Georgia's history. Landers has long preached that "hard work is what built Georgia Basketball and what continues to be the backbone of everything we do." And that goes for him, too.
Formative years on the farm Landers' work ethic and love of basketball were forged on a farm in Maryville, Tenn., where summers weren't spent lounging. There was always a project or a chore. And on the rare occasion when there wasn't, Landers fostered an affinity for basketball.
"I grew up as a kid in the rural country," Landers said. "You can't go out and play baseball or football by yourself, but you can certainly shoot hoops. When there are no other kids and you're looking for something to do, that's what you have. I gravitated towards basketball and fell in love with it at an early age. I played on teams starting in elementary school all the way up through high school."
And at an early age, Landers knew that coaching basketball was in his blood and in his future.
"I was in sixth grade when I decided that's what I wanted to do," Landers said. "A lot of it had to do with the fact that I had an uncle, A.J. Wilson, who coached at one of the county high schools and had incredible success with both football and basketball. Sometimes experiences like that just stick with you."
From 12-year-old dreamer to 22-year-old coach Once Andy Landers, just a dozen years old, decided that coaching would be his chosen profession, he blazed a trail to prominence. He became head coach at Roane State College in Harriman, Tenn., when he was just 22 and proceded to compile an 82-21 record and notch two top-10 national finishes in four seasons. He then set his sites on something significantly bigger.
The date was March 7, 1979, when Landers fired off a letter to Vince Dooley, the University of Georgia's head football coach and newly named Athletics Director, to inquire about interviewing to become UGA's women's basketball head coach.
"For the past couple of years I have been possessed with the idea that the University of Georgia should feature the outstanding women's basketball program in America," Landers stated matter of factly in the correspondance's second paragraph. "Georgia has the potential necessary to achieve this recognition and my ultimate goal in coaching is to take a major college basketball program and build it from the ground up into an immediate national power."
About six weeks later - on April 24, 1979 to be exact - a 26-year-old Landers was introduced as the Lady Bulldogs' initial full-time head coach. True to his word, under Landers' direction, the Lady Bulldogs quickly ascended from a program which may not have been even the fifth-best in the state of Georgia when he arrived to one that made its first Final Four less than four years later and today is among the top-5 nationally in virtually every ranking imaginable.
In Landers' first campaign, Georgia posted a respectable 16-12 record. The following year, the Lady Bulldogs won the Georgia AIAW Championship and also captured the WNIT national title. Two years later, Georgia found itself advancing to the Final Four in only the second edition of the NCAA Tournament. Fast-forward two more springs and the Lady Bulldogs reached the national championship game.
Consistency has become a word synonymous with Georgia teams for more than three decades now, perhaps best witnessed by Lady Bulldog Basketball's NCAA success.
"It's actually pretty plain and simple," Landers states matter of factly. "Hard work is what brought Georgia from 6-19 to 27-10 two years later. Maintaining that level has been a never-ending job. I think I'm proudest of the consistency...the fact that we've been consistent for three decades now. I hope we've been a team that other teams across the country would agree that year-in and year-out we've not only been on the leaderboard, but we've been up there near the top."
When Landers retired, Georgia was indeed near the top of virtually every numerical ledger associated with women's basketball. The Lady Bulldogs ranked No. 2 nationally in both NCAA Tournament bids and appearances in the weekly Associated Press polls, as well as No. 4 in consecutive winning seasons...a tally that by no coincidence began when Landers first arrived. Georgia was one of only three women's basketball programs to produce a winning record each and every season since the sport came under the auspices of the NCAA in the fall of 1981.
You're a Lady Bulldog for life While Landers thrives on winning, truth be told he is significantly prouder of the atmosphere surrounding Georgia Basketball. Only a select few are truly privy to what Landers firmly believes sets his program apart from all others...the Lady Bulldog family.
"The thing about Coach, when you're here playing for him, you know that he's teaching you the things, the basketball skills, you need to be successful," said Christi Thomas, who came to Athens ranked as the nation's No. 57 prospect by one major scouting service and left as the No. 12 overall pick in the first round of the 2004 WNBA Draft. "Everyone who decides to become a Lady Dog knows they're going to get that. What you don't understand while you're at Georgia, is that he's teaching you not only to perfect those on-court abilities, he's showing you how you're responsible for your own destiny after you leave here. He taught me not only the right things to do; he taught me the right way to do those things. Now it's up to me to do them."
Such understanding comes not only from professional players, but from other former Lady Bulldogs who chose different career paths - from teachers to sales reps, insurance adjusters to stay-at-home mothers.
"I wanted to say 'I'm a Georgia grad' " The record of Landers' players in the classroom is even better than their results on the hardwood. When current seniors Krista Donald and Erika Ford receive their degrees in May 2015, all 67 four-year Lady Bulldog letterwinners have not only secured a college diploma, they will have done so from the University of Georgia.
Lady (Hardmon) Grooms' pursuit of her degree is a perfect example of Landers' influence. She was a standout for Lady Bulldog teams of the late-80s and early-90s and went on to an extremely successful professional career, both in the U.S. and overseas in Hungary, Italy and Turkey. When she retired from the WNBA in 2004, one of Grooms' first calls was to Landers to see what she could do to finish her academic requirements. Following the birth of her daughter, Gabby, Grooms received her degree in 2009.
"Right after Gabby was born, Coach Landers called me and said, `Congratulations. When are you coming back to get your degree?'" Grooms said. "Basketball at Georgia was all about working hard. That was instilled by Coach Landers. We were taught to never quit, to always finish at the end."
Kedra Holland-Corn is another successful pro player who made her way back to Athens to complete her degree in 2009. Holland-Corn starred at Georgia and went on to win two WNBA titles with Detroit and enjoy an equally successful career in France, Hungary, Italy and Spain.
"I thought very briefly about finishing up overseas or in another place, but there was something about it," Holland-Corn admitted. "I didn't want to get my degree from anywhere else. I wanted to say `I'm a Georgia grad'...that I was one of the athletes who finished."
A legendary figure from Dalton to Valdosta All of the aforementioned helps explain why and how Landers has become a truly iconic figure in the state of Georgia and the basketball universe. From his trademark, slicked-back "do" to the often gnawed but never lit cigar, folks that know Georgia and know hoops know Andy Landers.
Though numerous factors aligned perfectly to play a major role in the emergence of Georgia Basketball, it's hard to imagine very many coaches would have capitalized as much on their surroundings as Landers did.
"I knew if we relied on the state of Georgia to get all our players, it would take three, four, five years to get all the players and depth we needed with the kind of players we were looking for," Landers said. "I guess I was driven by impatience as much as anything else."
While Landers has become more patient over time, his tireless work ethic is the driving and constant force behind Georgia Basketball...and the upkeep of his front yard.
Quotes from Andy Landers' Retirement Andy Landers: "I feel blessed to have had the privilege of working at the University of Georgia for the past 36 years. Athens is a wonderful community where I have raised my family and had the unwavering support of my wife Pam, my daughter Andrea and my son Drew. I appreciate the support of a wonderful Bulldog Nation...our loyal fans...and the Fastbreak Club members. I owe a special thanks to Coach Vince Dooley for entrusting me with the challenge of building a successful program 36 years ago and to Greg McGarity for continuing that trust and support. A big thank you to Hugh Durham for being a young coach's mentor...to Presidents Davison, Knapp, Adams and Morehead for their guidance and leadership...to all my former and present staff members and coaches who worked tirelessly to help make the success that we have a reality.
"But most of all, I want to thank each and every player for committing to the challenge of being the best they could be...because in so doing they contributed to and established a tradition that fewer than a handful can match. They created a program that ranks among the most elite nationwide. I want to say once more that each and every honor that has come my way is the result of unselfish individuals who believed their team and the name on the front of their jersey was more important than the name on the back. Once again, thanks to everyone who has contributed to and supported Georgia Basketball...just like this University, you're special."
Greg McGarity, UGA's J. Reid Parker Director of Athletics: "Andy has led our women's basketball program on an incredible journey for 36 years, and his Women's Basketball Hall of Fame recognition in 2007 is a testimony to his impact on the world of women's college basketball. Andy has poured his heart and soul into our program, and his dedication to the remarkable athletic and academic progress of his student-athletes is sincerely appreciated by everyone associated with UGA. I will also miss working alongside my good friend. We wish Andy and Pam the very best as he heads into retirement."
Jere W. Morehead, UGA President "I am very appreciative of the many contributions Andy has made to the University of Georgia. Aside from his remarkable achievements in athletic competition, I am especially thankful for the importance he has placed on the academic achievement of our student-athletes. It is a tremendous accomplishment that every four-year letterwinner Andy has coached has graduated from the University of Georgia. I am grateful for his many years of service to UGA."
Carla Williams, UGA Deputy Director of Athletics and former Lady Bulldog player (1985-89) and assistant coach (1991-96) "I have known Coach since I was 14 years old, and he has helped to shape who I am today both professionally and personally. He, along with Pam, Andrea and Drew, have sacrificed a lot through the years for a program we all love dearly. I'm thankful to him for giving me a chance to attend the University of Georgia as a player and I'm also thankful to him for giving me a chance to be a part of his coaching staff. His impact is immeasurable."
Teresa Edwards, Lady Bulldog letterwinner from 1982-86 and five-time U.S. Olympian "I really can't conceptualize this to be honest with you. It's going to take a little time. It's almost unfair I didn't get a chance to say 'No, coach. Come on...don't do it.' After playing for Coach Landers, I had to judge every other coach I had by him and no one compared. You don't think about this when you're playing, but he's bigger than the game. He's one helluva coach but that doesn't compare to the man I love. Only he could take so many different people from so many backgrounds and mold us into a team. I couldn't have been half the player I was without what Andy Landers did for me at Georgia. He helped so many young girls become young ladies and then women. I love the man. He's a great guy. "
Angie (Ball) Watson, Lady Bulldog letterwinner from 1996-2000 and captain of 32-4 team in 1999-2000 "When I first think of Coach Landers, aside from my parents, I don't know that there's been a more influential person in my life in a positive way. He helped instill in me mental toughness that I have today as a mom and a wife. Most of all of that comes from Coach Landers. I'm in complete shock and blown away that he's retiring right now. He's a great friend. I'm happy I might get to see him a little more now."