In this edition of Bulldawg Illustrated, I had the opportunity to interview Coach Andy Landers. He was the Georgia Women’s Basketball head coach for forty-six years. He is the winningest women’s basketball coach in all of history.
Q: As a player, how did you get your start in basketball?
Andy Landers: “Well, I grew up in a rural town called Friendsville, Tennessee. There weren’t a lot of kids around, and I didn’t have many neighbors, so you can’t play baseball by yourself, and you can’t play football by yourself, but you can shoot hoops by yourself. I fell in love with the sport when I was five years old. I started playing then, and I played in elementary school and high school. It’s just something I’ve enjoyed doing since I was really small. I played basketball at Friendsville High School. It’s in East Tennessee, not far from Knoxville.”
Q: Did you play basketball in college at Tennessee Tech, and did you go straight from Tennessee Tech into coaching at Roane State?
Andy Landers: “No, I walked on as a freshman and made the team, but I did not play. I wasn’t good enough to play college basketball.
Yes, I did go straight into coaching at Roane State. I got really lucky there. I graduated from Tennessee Tech, and three months later I was head coach at Roane State Community College. I was there for four years, and we did pretty well. Then, I came to Georgia.”
Q: As the winningest coach in women’s basketball history you probably wouldn’t change much, but if you could change one thing, what would it be?
Andy Landers: “Ohh, Hamilton that’s a good question. You threw me some chalk balls, now you’re throwing me a curve ball. You know philosophically, I wouldn’t change anything. Our philosophy was we were going to do the right thing at the right time. We were going to play hard, and we were going to do the best we could. Those were kind of the pillars, and what we strived to do. You know I wouldn’t adjust or tweak any of those things, but maybe things like the 1985 National Championship game. In that game Teresa Edwards drew her fourth foul with about nine minutes left in the game. We were ahead, and I took her out. Then we got behind, so I put her back in with about seven minutes left. Now my thinking was Teresa hadn’t fouled out of a game since she was a sophomore in college. I just had confidence that she was a smart player, and she wouldn’t make an unnecessary foul. I put her back in too early. A minute later she fouled out, and we lost the National Championship, so there were decisions and games I’d like to go back and change, but overall things really went pretty well.”
Q: Even as rivals, you and Pat Summit found a way to be best friends in the business, so tell me a little bit about your relationship with Coach Summit?
Andy Landers: “It was a good healthy relationship. It was as healthy as it could be given that we were bitter rivals. There was a period of time in the 80s and 90s where Georgia and Tennessee literally competed for everything. We competed for players, conference championships, we played each other in the first rounds of the NCAA Tournament. We beat Tennessee in 1983 to go to our first Final Four. In 1986 they beat us in the Regional Championship to get in the Final Four, and in 1996 we played for the National Championship, so we competed for everything on the table, and we did it over a long period of time. There were times when she didn’t like me a whole lot, and there were times when I didn’t like her a whole lot, but we always found a way to get over it and get along. We needed to do what we needed to do so that both Tennessee and Georgia could both succeed in their basketball programs.”
Q: The entire Tennessee football team has Coach Summit’s signature painted on their helmets, so do you think it’s giving them a sense of luck? Specifically the Georgia game.
Andy Landers: [Dying laughing Coach Landers said] “I don’t know! That could be a factor! I’d rather suspect that their preparation has a lot to do with that, but you can never tell. It’s certainly a respectful gesture on their part to do that for her.”
Q: We have a mutual friend, Vickie Farmer, who put me in touch with you. I’ve heard a lot of great stories about y’all. Tell me about your friendship with the Farmers.
Andy Landers: “If you go backwards about thirty-seven years, women’s basketball at Georgia wasn’t a big deal. Not a lot of people cared about it. It was just a baby that needed to grow up and become what it was going to become. As I moved around Athens doing my job in the first years of my job, Vickie and Leon Farmer became real friends with the program. They supported us in every way that you can imagine. Not only did they support Georgia basketball, they knew the players, and they came to practice; they talked to the players; they were friends with the players. Vickie has been a wonderful friend to me through all of these years, and she is a person who I have always felt close to and have cared dearly about. I was very lucky to have just gotten to town and meet them when I didn’t know anybody, and to have such a great relationship with her through all of these years.”
Q: It’s always fun to hear some quirky things about people, so do you have any weird hobbies or interesting facts that little know?
Andy Landers: “How about I give you a scoop. You may or may not know, but I did some things for ESPN last year. This year I’ll be going to Bristol, and then again on Monday nights in January I’ll be doing some nationwide stuff in the ESPN studio. There is your scoop and story, but I don’t really have any secrets. I love being outside. I’m not a very exciting person to tell you the truth; in fact, my wife thinks I’m boring. I enjoy working out on my farm. I’ve enjoyed the work I’ve done with ESPN and the SEC Network. I’m happy! I’ve always been happy not being in a crowd. I don’t get out a whole lot; I don’t party; I enjoy just kicking back and watching Law and Order and doing what I do.”
Q: I’ve always closed out my interviews by discussing thoughts on the Smart era.
Andy Landers: “There is no question that Kirby was an excellent choice. I’ve known Kirby since he was in high school. His dad and I have been friends, gosh, thirty years I guess. I watched Kirby play football in high school. I watched him when he played at Georgia. At his core he’s the right kind of person to lead Georgia. I hate that they’ve struggled a bit, but you learn a lot about yourself and what you’re doing. Sometimes life’s lessons aren’t served on a silver platter. I think that the experience that he’s getting this year will be valuable to him as he moves forward. I’m confident that Georgia will be the football team that everybody wants it to be. But as much as I like Kirby I like his wife, Mary Beth, a lot more. You know why Hamilton? [Yes sir, because she played for you] Yeh, that’s right!”
Q: Having said that, I’m assuming you keep in touch with your players?
Andy Landers: “As I’m speaking with you now, I’m on the road to Virginia, and in the process I’ve spoken with three of them today. We try to stay in touch. They reach out to me, and I reach out to them. That’s been one of the great rewards of having coached. The relationships that you build and sustain for a lifetime is just a wonderful thing.”
What a privilege it was for me to talk to the winningest women’s basketball coach of all-time! Andy Landers will forever be a legendary name at the University of Georgia and in women’s basketball nationwide. Thank you Coach Landers for a fun time! Enjoy your cows on the farm!