Kelly Cole continues to rebuild Northeastern into a contender in the CAA

When analyzing the prospects for rebuilding a program, the focus often rests on the on-court production. Which top scorers are returning is typically the first question asked when challenges are considered. But what happens when both the on and off-court product needs to be revamped? How do you change the culture of a program?

One person who knows is Kelly Cole, Head Women’s Basketball Coach at Northeastern University. Now in her sixth season leading the Huskies, Cole has played a big role in not only guiding Northeastern Women’s Basketball to more wins and a boosted profile from a national perspective, but also in changing the perception of the program within the University.

When Cole left her assistant coaching position at Harvard to take over at Northeastern, she inherited a program needing improvement in almost every area. The team had the lowest GPA of any program within the athletic department and student-athletes weren’t utilizing Northeastern’s renowned co-op program. Further, work needed to be done from a preparation and conditioning standpoint if the goal of sustained success was to be met.

“As a coach, my philosophy has always revolved around the student-athletes – I want the student-athletes to get a great education and compete at the highest levels,” said Cole. “When I interviewed at Northeastern, I had no idea that the University had raised the bar for academics as high as it had. The combination of academics and the conference made me confident about what could be done here. I asked if I could get the right kids to commit to play here, and thought ‘yeah, we can do this.’”

That can-do approach isn’t surprising when you look at Cole’s background. After playing for Don Perrelli at Northwestern and coming from a long line of educators (24 total teachers in her family), she has utilized basketball as a vehicle to teach. Strongly competitive, she has coached both collegiately and at the high school level but missed the level of NCAA competition when she was away from it. Cole learned quite a bit from each coach she played for or worked with, whether it be Perrelli, the late Cathy Inglese at Boston College, or Kathy Delaney-Smith in her two seasons at Harvard.

Those coaches did things the right way and gave her an opportunity to witness coaching philosophies and methods different from her own, which has proven to be beneficial in rebuilding the Northeastern program. In particular, it helped prepare her for what it meant to “build a culture.”

“The most important thing about changing culture is how much time is not spent on basketball. As knowledgeable as I may have been with X’s and O’s when I arrived, that was just a small part of building the program. The more important aspects involve teaching kids to communicate and taking the time to develop a personal relationship with each and every player,” said Cole. “The first-year recruiting for us was all about establishing a positive culture. Getting Jess (Genco) and Gabby (Giacone) was huge because I knew they’d be great culture kids. The loved the game, wanted to play, and would be great students.”

That approach has certainly worked for Cole, who last year led Northeastern to a 20-win season and a berth in the Postseason WNIT. The program’s academics are once again strong and continue to get better, and the student-athletes enjoy being a part of the program and believe in the direction it’s moving.

“We are a long way from finished, and in my mind, we can always keep working,” added Cole. “That drive to be champions will continue to drive me and our players. We have made good progress, but we aren’t done, and that’s a huge motivator for us all.” 

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