Associate head coach Karen Lange is running the team while Joni Taylor is out.
Nov. 9, 2016
By John Frierson
UGAAA Staff Writer
If you know anything about Georgia women’s basketball coach Joni Taylor, you probably know she’s a planner, an organizer and one of the more focused people you’ll ever meet. It's not in her nature to play much by ear.
Of course, she’s never had a child before either, and the Lady Bulldogs’ second-year coach knows she’s in “unchartered territory.” When Taylor returns to coaching in the next week or two, either full time or part time, will be largely based on "feel," she said earlier this month.
Last Thursday morning, Taylor and her husband Darius became the proud parents of a daughter, Jacie Elise Taylor, who arrived eight days early. Taylor’s due date was Nov. 11, this Friday, opening day of her second season as head coach. Her daughter’s early arrival, a bit of a surprise at the end of what Taylor had said was a very smooth pregnancy, is actually a good thing for the coach.
Last Tuesday, Taylor talked at length about her plans for the early part of the women’s basketball season — plans that had been evaluated and put in place not long after she found out she was pregnant. Generally speaking, the plans were for associate head coach Karen Lange to be in charge for the first two weeks after Taylor gave birth. After that, much would depend on how Taylor and the baby were doing.
“My plan is to be back as soon as possible, but what day that is I don’t know,” Taylor said on Nov. 1, two days before her daughter arrived. “But again, if she comes and I’m not ready to leave her or it’s not time, then we have a plan for me to be gone longer.
“In a perfect world I want to be back with the team and the girls as soon as I can. I don’t have an exact date for when that’s going to be — it’s going to be a feel.”
Her daughter’s early arrival likely moves the calendar up on Taylor’s return to the bench. When the Lady Bulldogs open their season Friday against South Carolina State, Lange will coach the team, but Taylor could be around. That’s even more possible for Sunday’s game against Mercer and Nov. 16 against BYU.
After the three home games to start the season, Georgia visits Georgia Tech on Nov. 20. That’s followed by the Junkanoo Jam in Freeport, Bahamas, Nov. 24-25.
Two days before giving birth, Taylor said this: “What I can pretty confidently say is that unless she comes today or tomorrow, I will not make the trip to the Bahamas.”
Well, she did. The best laid plans ..., right?
The pregnancy plan, Taylor said, was to get pregnant over the summer, be pregnant all season and then give birth in April or May. Not all plans work out as expected, of course. In fact, delivering in early November should work out just fine.
“Really, I think it would have been a lot more stressful to have been pregnant all season long,” she said.
Several weeks before giving birth, Taylor ceded much of the day-to-day responsibilities to Lange and assistant coaches Chelsea Newton and Robert Mosley. Taylor was still around, though not on her feet all that much, but the other coaches ran practice.
“We’ve actually since August have kind of been implementing different things to make this as smooth of a transition as possible, for however long it’s going to be, for the staff, but more importantly for our players,” Lange said.
A veteran coach, Lange has been an assistant at Virginia Tech, Kansas, Charlotte and spent a year as the head coach at MidAmerica Nazarene, in Kansas, during the 2010-11 season. She joined Taylor’s staff in April 2015.
During the first scrimmage, in late October, Lange led the Lady Bulldogs while Taylor sat on the opposite side of the arena. Lange also coached the second scrimmage, last weekend.
“I think we’re all pretty comfortable and know that we can do this and it’s fine,” Lange said last Tuesday. “Our staff is great in the sense that we’re going to just collaborate and work together and give each other the same kinds of suggestions as we do when Joni’s in the huddle.”
Taylor said she’d likely be gone two weeks, and Georgia hosts BYU 13 days after she gave birth — and the trip to Tech would be 17 days after. Regardless of when she initially rejoins the team, Taylor said she won’t be going full speed ahead right away.
“Even when I return, we’re talking returning to be at practice and be at games, not putting in full days at the office,” Taylor said. That, she said, will take a little more time.
Lange said when Taylor told the team she was pregnant, bedlam erupted. Players were running around, screaming, and "you would have thought we won a national championship with how they reacted." So it's a safe bet there’s a whole team of big sisters that will be eager to help out the new mom any way they can.
John Frierson is the staff writer for the UGA Athletic Association and curator of the ITA Men’s Tennis Hall of Fame. You can find his work at: Frierson Files. He’s also on Twitter: @FriersonFiles and @ITAHallofFame.